By Stephanie Thiel
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
An opportunity to play professional baseball is a hard one to turn down. Regardless, Missouri senior Ryan Lollis has now said "no" twice.
The centerfielder said he has no regrets about either of his decisions. He maintains he plays the game as if he were in the school-yard with his childhood buddies. But over his four-year tenure at MU, Lollis has learned and grown far more than he could have ever imagined when first arriving in Columbia.
After a stellar senior season in high school, Lollis was named a first team All-State selection in Texas and went on to win the State Championship with Houston Christian. He entered his name into the MLB draft shortly after, and the 20th round, his number was called.
So why did Lollis say no to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who wanted to draft him straight out of high school?
"My dad made me," Lollis laughed. "I wanted to go because it's such a cool experience. Getting drafted, that's everyone's dream. I wanted to go really bad, but he (my dad) was like, ‘you need to go to college.’"
While most schools in Texas looked at Lollis as a pitcher, MU was bidding for his bat along with his defensive talent. Wanting a change of pace and a chance to hit, Lollis traveled to Missouri to earn his college degree and play baseball for the Tigers.
"They were going to let me hit," Lollis confirmed as of one of the biggest reasons he decided to come to Mizzou.
And hit he did. During his freshman campaign Lollis put up a .327 batting average, the third highest on MU's 2006 squad. He attributes a lot of his success to the players ahead of him.
“I had a good opportunity my freshman year. There were a lot of good teachers in front of me, Hunter Mense, Evan Frey,” said Lollis. “I learned from just watching those guys, knowing that if I ever got a chance, if you're going to play, you can't make a mistake. You just want to live up to something like that. When I got my opportunity I just tried to make the best of it.”
Along with putting up outstanding numbers at the plate in his first year, he had a flawless season in the outfield. Committing zero errors, Lollis was beginning to live up to the hype.
But his Tiger career was only beginning. At the 2006 NCAA Regional against UC-Irvine, Lollis was asked to pinch-hit. With a single, he sent Mizzou to the Super Regional.
“I got the game-winning hit in the 14th inning. That was really special,” Lollis said. “That kind of set the tone for me and my career here.”
As the years went by, Lollis has watched his role-models graduate and now finds himself in a similar mentor position. He still boasts Frey and Mense, and how lucky he was to have the chance to witness their incredible talent. But each year brings new freshmen, and Lollis knows he is now the one being watched. Feeling little pressure by this, he sets an example for younger Tigers by admitting he still plays like a kid.
“I love hitting the ball. I love just playing the game how it is supposed to be played,” Lollis said. “Stealing bases is fun. I hate getting caught stealing. Scoring runs is so much fun. Things like that, when you get things going, people get excited. I just think that's the best part about this game, when you're having the most fun and you're playing like a kid. If you ever forget how to do that, it's just not fun anymore. I just like playing, so I try to play the best I can.”
Lollis’ passion for the game has held strong. Though times when he felt overwhelmed with classes and new responsibilities, his coaches and teammates were always there to help. Likewise, the same group of guys helped make it easier to say “no” to the Detroit Pirates when they offered him a spot last season.
“I hear whenever you're done, the last team ball you actually play, and play for each other, is in college,” said Lollis. “I’m not sure if it’s true, but I had another opportunity to play with these guys. I'm not going to be with them forever, so it was another chance for me to come back and play with them, which has been awesome.”
At the conclusion of the season, Lollis will once again have to decide if he will enter his name into the MLB draft. But before then, he has a senior baseball season and school to finish up. Upon graduation Lollis will be the first in his family to graduate from college, a goal not only of his, but also of his parents.
When asked if he feels he has lived up to Frey and Mense of a few years ago, a personal goal of his, Lollis smiled.
“Those are some big shoes to fill. I don't want to say I can fill those shoes, I want to make my own footprints. Just so someone can say the same thing I'm saying about those guys. Hopefully they're going to say that about me when I'm gone. In the end, I'm glad I came here,” said Lollis. “I made a lot of friends and a lot of memories I'll never forget.”
Many will never forget Lollis either. He has led the Tigers in several categories, including at-bats, hits, doubles, stolen bases, and sac flies, just to name a few.
After four unforgettable years, Lollis knows saying “no” isn’t always a bad thing.
“It was a good decision. I've just learned so much in three years and I have no regrets about it. I love this place (Missouri),” he contested. “I'm going to miss it so much when I'm out of here.”