Ritchie looks to spring into Single A action

Bainbridge’s JR Ritchie has begun his professional baseball career nearly 2,800 miles away from the island.

After being drafted 35th overall by Atlanta in July 2022, Ritchie is playing for the Augusta GreenJackets, a Single A minor league team.

“Being a high school kid, you feel like you have time and real life isn’t upon me yet,” Ritchie said. “Next thing you know, I’m living in an apartment in Augusta playing professional baseball. It was a culture shock being thrown into the fire a little bit.”

Ritchie was drafted Monday, July 17, in Los Angeles. He got a call from the Braves the next day and had to head to Atlanta that Thursday. He signed his $2.4 million contract that Friday and flew to Florida that Saturday to live and train for a few months.

Ritchie made his professional debut in the rookie league for the Florida Complex League Braves. In his two games, he pitched 4.1 innings, gave up no earned runs and had four strikeouts.

After a few months in the rookie league, Ritchie’s life really changed.

“When spring training came around, I reported about a month early,” Ritchie said. “I made the drive to Augusta, and they sent me an email with instructions where my keys were in a lockbox on my door. I used that key to get in and walked in, and here’s my apartment.”

Ritchie was called into the office to be told he was going to crack the active roster of the GreenJackets. “That was a pretty special moment,” Ritchie said. “I flew up to Augusta on Monday, drove to Myrtle Beach on Tuesday and had a whole new team.”

Ritchie made his debut in the fall league with four scoreless innings and led the GreenJackets to a 9-1 victory. In 2022, Ritchie pitched 10 total innings with a 2.70 ERA and 10 strikeouts in Single A. His spring debut included three innings pitched, no hits, no runs and seven strikeouts.

“It’s so much fun in Augusta,” Ritchie said. “The rookie ball is fun for a little bit because there is nobody at those games. Augusta had the highest attendance with about 4,200 people a night on average. It was nice to have a crowd watching you and made you want to get to the field every day.”

Besides being in a new region of the country, Ritchie described the atmosphere of Bainbridge and Augusta as completely different. “You go from being a senior in high school and having a lot of confidence,” Ritchie said. “The minor league is a big pond with a lot of big fish. Last year, there was a guy on my team who was a priest in the offseason and was 30 years old.”

Ritchie has run across players who are the same age competing for the first time and others who have been playing professionally since before he was born. “You run into these guys who have so much experience, and you learn to keep your mouth shut and follow the lead,” Ritchie said.

But Ritchie is looking to stand out as a leader. “You have to show them you can work hard and be willing to learn every day,” he said. “You have to act like someone is watching you.”

Ritchie makes sure to keep in contact with his family and friends back home. “I never really lived alone by myself growing up so it was a big change for me,” he said. “My parents have been a huge help by coming out a lot to see me and check-in. I have a great support staff of coaches, family, friends and mentors who talk and check in on me. It definitely has made a huge difference.”

Ritchie’s spring debut for the GreenJackets has been delayed because of weather, but he has set high goals for this season and the future. “This season I want to get one percent better every day,” Ritchie said. “Throughout the next couple of years, I want to play big-league baseball and play with the big boys. All I can do is put my best foot down and show them why I deserve it.”