There’s a professional baseball team based in Florence, Kentucky, called the Freedom, and they’ve had a whale of a season.
The Freedom is not affiliated with any major league teams. But the Freedom players, fans, employees and owners have one thing in common. They are passionate about the game of baseball. And they’re proud to have qualified for the 2019 playoffs.
The team’s catcher is 25-year-old Ryan Rinksy of North Caldwell, New Jersey.
Rinsky started out as a middle infielder and pitcher in his early days on the diamond. When his coach moved the team’s catcher from behind the plate to the pitching rubber, Ryan volunteered to catch. About a year before his bar mitzvah, his teammate joined a club team, and Rinsky was the only one left with catching experience. So he settled in as the regular backstop and began to learn the ins and outs of the position.
“I fell in love with the position. I like being involved so much (in the game),” Rinsky told The American Israelite. “It’s kind of like being another coach on the field. I’m helping guys make decisions. Being involved on every single pitch is pretty cool.”
Rinsky went on to become the starting catcher for West Essex High School in North Caldwell. The Knights were the No. 1-ranked team in New Jersey his sophomore year and won the state championship. They lost in the state championship the following year. Unfortunately for Rinsky, he broke his leg (fibula) chasing a foul pop-up at the beginning of his senior season. He was sidelined for that year, but he had committed to play for Ramapo College (Division III) in Mahwah, New Jersey.
Coming off the injury Ryan needed to prove himself once he arrived on campus, and he did. He made the team and took over as the starting catcher about a third of the way into his freshman year. He would remain there throughout his four years at Ramapo.
“We had a lot of success,” Rinsky remembered. “We went to the NCAA tournament three times. My junior year we went to the D-3 College World Series. My senior year there was one week we were ranked the N. 1 team in the nation, which was pretty cool.”
After his senior year Rinsky still wanted to keep playing even though he didn’t get drafted, so he went out to the California Winter League in Palm Springs. It turned out to be a smart move.
“Basically it’s like a one-month showcase league,” Rinsky said. “Dennis Pelfrey, my manager here in Florence, happened to be my manager there, which I think is pretty random. I just happened to play for his team and he was looking for a catcher. I think within the first week he offered me a contract and that’s how I ended up here.”
The Freedom was founded in 2003 after relocating from Pennsylvania. Florence is a member of the Frontier League, a group of independent pro teams like the Lake Erie Crushers, the Joliet Slammers and the Evansville Otters. (Cincinnati native and former Vanderbilt star Karl Ellison plays for Lake Erie.)
The Freedom, despite having five players signed by major league affiliates this season, had a strong 2019. They turned a slick double play in July that appeared on SportsCenter. The team qualified for the postseason, winning nearly 60 percent of its games. They clinched a playoff berth with an 8-5 victory over the Windy City Thunderbolts on Aug. 30.
This is Rinsky’s third season with the Freedom. Although his value is mostly felt when he’s wearing the catching gear, he has had his moments with a bat in his hand. He has a great eye at the plate. He posted a stellar .374 on-base percentage in 2017. Rinsky hasn’t hit for a ton of power, but he did jump all over a full-count fastball and crank it over the left field fence in 2018.
Simultaneous to his professional playing career, Rinsky has been coaching for his alma mater, Ramapo. In fact he was recently named interim head coach for the 2019-20 season. He’ll play out the remainder of the Freedom’s season, then fly back to Jersey for the beginning of Fall Ball.
Florence is currently battling the Lake Erie Crushers in the first round of the Frontier League playoffs. The Freedom plays its home games at UC Health Stadium in Florence.