PUNXSUTAWNEY— Despite being just a junior, standout catcher Ryan Sloniger already knows where he'll be playing college ball.
"Whenever coach Rob Cooper took the job at Penn State, it was a big help for me to make my decision," Sloniger said. "I had seen some stuff on the Internet before, when he was at Wright State. When I saw that he took the job at Penn State, I did a lot of research on him. The day after he got the job, he had texted my summer coach, asking me to give him a call. So I gave him a call and started building a relationship with him. I got my visits set up and sat down with all the coaches for a few hours. I felt really comfortable there."
Sloniger decided to verbally commit to the Nittany Lions, despite having interest from Clemson, Coastal Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia Tech and Arizona.
The decision was a long, hard process for Sloniger.
Luckily for him, his father, Jim, was along for the ride to help him with his decision.
"We've spent a lot of windshield time traveling along the East Coast, looking at colleges, playing baseball — I'm always in his ear giving him my opinion," Jim Sloniger said. "Ultimately, the decision was his, and that's what I've always told him. As long as he's making decisions for the right reasons, he has my support. We've talked about it a lot as a family, once it became decision time."
And he's making the decisions for the right reason.
Ryan Sloniger understands that he will hold the title of student athlete, not just athlete.
"I don't know exactly what I want to major in yet," Ryan Sloniger said. "I'm looking at business, marketing or something to do with education."
While it may sound like a standard answer, you can tell that he has done his research about his future stomping grounds.
"I've always known about the degree that you come out with at Penn State. The fact that there are 600,000 living alumni — pretty much everyone that has come out of Penn State has been successful in any field they came out of," Ryan Sloniger said. "That was huge for me. You can't play baseball your whole life, and at some point, you have to retire and have a backup plan."
As for his father, he's impressed with the baseball aspect of Penn State, but the education is what allowed him to give his blessing on the decision.
"What I like about it is the school in general is a perfect fit for him. Educationally, baseball experience and the ability to develop, I think it's a perfect fit," Jim Sloniger said. "I blessed it right away. It's a great school, great education, great degree and a lot of good baseball to go with it, playing in a big conference."
As a bigger school, Penn State actually plays its games on a pro field at Medlar Field.
The State College Spikes — the former affiliate to the Pittsburgh Pirates — also play on the field.
But remember, it's the Nittany Lions' field first.
"The Spikes play on Penn State's field," Ryan Sloniger said with a laugh. "Penn State owns the field. That's what the coaches kept telling us."
Ryan Sloniger has had a chance to see the field and the campus outside of his official visits.
He said that he's attended many Penn State football games and basketball games over the years.
It must feel good to play at a school that you're a big fan of, huh?
"I'm actually a Pitt fan, but I've always rooted for Penn State, too," Ryan Sloniger said with a laugh. "I've grown up as a big Pitt basketball fan. I've never been a huge college football fan, but I root for Penn State and Pitt. For college basketball though, I'm still a Pitt fan."
Don't worry, Ryan, we won't tell your secret.
As far as his game goes, Sloniger is ahead of the curve.
For his summer league games, he's able to call his own game behind the plate, which at the high school level, is very rare.
On the field for the Chucks, however, he said that his pitching coach, Jason Jacobson, calls the pitches.
"All summer, I call my own games," Sloniger said. "During the high school season, coach Jacobson calls the pitches and does all of that. I have all of the pitches on a wristband."
With a pop-time — the time from when the ball "pops" the catchers mitt, to when it reaches the second baseman or shortstop's glove — in the 1.9 range, Ryan Sloniger said that he was a fan of two excellent catchers growing up, but now he models his game after someone more local.
And it's not who you may think it is.
"I'm a big Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez] fan and a big Yadier Molina fan," Ryan Sloniger said. "Right now, I never really watched much of him before, but once Russell Martin got to Pittsburgh, just from my abilities and the way I catch, I feel like I'd mirror myself after him right now."
His defense is impressive, but the left-handed hitter feels as if he is equally known for his ability at the plate.
The younger Sloniger describes himself as a gap-to-gap hitter, with some power mixed in.
Given his skill set, unlike a lot of catchers, Sloniger has the ability to stay behind the plate at Penn State and beyond.
"Penn State wants me to stay behind the plate," Sloniger said. "That was another big thing to me, the opportunity to play early behind the plate there."
So the plan is to play at Penn State, but what if Sloniger receives a call from a general manager during the MLB Draft?
"Right now, I want to be able to go to college," Sloniger said. "If I'm a first rounder, then I have decisions to make because of the signing bonuses."
But with a platform like Penn State and playing on a field that professional ballplayers play on, it's definitely motivation to get to the next level.
"It motivates me for sure. My ultimate goal is to be able to play professional baseball. It's always been that way while I was growing up," Sloniger said. "This is just one step. It's a big step, but it's a step to help me to my ultimate goal. I had the goal to be able to play Division I baseball, but I definitely want to be able to play professional baseball one day."
Sloniger is excited to get things underway at State College, as he's expecting to contribute right away, but is going to enjoy his final two years of high school first.
"I'm really exited to get there," Sloniger said with a smile. "I'm going to enjoy my high school career as much as possible, and I'm really exited for our high school season to get here. It'll drag on a little bit, and I can't wait to get there, but I'm going to enjoy the high school that I have left."