Today's world is teaching many what St Petersburg's El Rico Riley already knew- that sports are vital. The Atlanta native has used sports as an outlet his entire life, best categorizing them as " the mecca of civilization" for his community and his own personal development. After an impressive first year on the diamond, Riley revisits the past and speaks on the future.
The now second year Mechanical Engineering major hails from College Park GA, just south of Atlanta proper. It was here that Riley discovered what sports could offer him " I always knew I was athletic and I would play any sport my parents would sign me up for. With so much poverty in the area sports was a release and a way out for many people". Recognizing his athletics gifts , Riley quickly became a dual sport athlete in high school, contributing to both football and baseball programs.
Yet it was always baseball that intrigued Riley, who asserts that despite football being such a cultural fixture as many know it to be, that baseball was his true love. As his senior fall turned into winter, Riley was looking for a home despite an offer from Southern University. A showcase in Bradenton and the watchful eye of Titan pitching coach Sean O'Connor ensured he would not have that problem for much longer.
Pitching Coach Sean O'Connor recalls the first time laying eyes on Riley "I remember walking up to the field and saying ' who is that grown man out there and why did they let him play with high schoolers?". Astonishment aside, it was clear early that Riley stood out from the pack. "He had physical tools dripping off him, lots of fast twitch muscles and he was a good kid. Really looked you in the eye when he spoke" lauds O'Connor. The former Major League scout believed that Riley could come in and play and potentially pitch right away for the Titans. After a visit to campus and a few days to think about it, Riley was officially a Titan and would leave Atlanta for sunny St Petersburg.
Away from home, studying Mechanical Engineering, and competing for a spot on Head Coach Ryan Beckman's squad ,many young men might have faltered a bit in their first semester. El Rico Riley had no such issues "I had no problem living on my own or finding time to study… I realized that I was built different from a lot of people". Although true, this does not tell the whole story from a baseball perspective. Late in fall practice Beckman moved Riley from the infield to the outfield where Riley's natural athleticism would best fit the needs of the team.
Despite spending the near entirety of fall ball in the infield, Riley quickly adjusted to his new position, impressing Titan outfield coach Mitchell Wydetic " He very quickly became a great defender, statistically he was our best defender… in fact I don't think he made an error all season". Wydetic's insight checks out, Riley was the only every day position player to post a perfect fielding percentage. In addition to this, Riley fulfilled Pitching Coach Sean O'Connor's vision on the mound, allowing only one walk while striking out 7 in 4.1 innings pitched " he's a breath of fresh air, he comes in a pounds the strike zone with the best of them on our roster" touts O'Connor.
With his second year on the horizon- and 4 years of eligibility left sue to the COVID-19 shutdown- Riley aims for bigger and better programs at the upper levels of collegiate baseball. With how much Riley has accomplished in his first collegiate campaign and what he has already overcome, who is to say he won't accomplish exactly that?