Live Like Ek

A small piece of rubber helps shine a light on understanding a top prospect.

(Patrick Cavey)

By Robby Veronesi & Kelsey Carter / Bowie Baysox | September 4, 2018 10:07 AM

On the other side of Downtown Orlando from the tourist-heavy theme parks sits the city of Oviedo, Florida. It's an up-and-coming city, with a population that has risen to just over 33,000 in recent years.

The city located just north of the University of Central Florida is where Baysox infielder Ryan Mountcastle spent much of his childhood. It was a crowded, fun-loving household. After Mountcastle's parents divorced when he was very young, the energetic future pro baseball player soon obtained a few more siblings.

"I have a sister, two step-brothers and a half-brother," said Mountcastle. "Age-wise, I'm right in the middle. My mom and stepdad had my half-brother (Kyle). My stepmom had two kids from a previous marriage (Josh and Jacob). My mom and dad had (my sister) Kelly. Both sides of the family are civil and they all get along really well, which is a rare thing."

Growing up, one commonly shared activity was sports.

"I've always loved playing baseball, throwing the football around or playing basketball-really just any sport," said Mountcastle. "My mom or my stepmom would get upset if we threw the ball around the house, so I've always loved going outside and playing. My dad was a Florida fan. My stepdad was a (Miami) Hurricanes fan. I used to always go to the UCF football games, so I caught on with UCF."

UCF soon caught on with Mountcastle as well.

"I was just always better at baseball," said Mountcastle. "I had a lot of fun playing basketball, but sports are year-round in Florida, so you had to pick one over the other. Colleges started contacting me my freshman year in high school. I committed to UCF pretty early in my sophomore year. Professional teams started contacting me towards the end of my junior year."

Now, it turns out that the process of being drafted as a high schooler is not all too different from college recruiting-except for the logos and team colors, of course.  

"It was a crazy experience," said Mountcastle. "(I) had 2-3 different teams coming into (my) house every week-some of them multiple times. You're then driving across the country for a two-hour workout, hitting batting practice and throwing baseballs across the infield.

"That junior summer going into my senior year was probably the craziest summer I've ever had. I was never home. I didn't have a normal summer like most kids do. It was just all baseball. It was a crazy time in my life."

Soon after, Mountcastle's life got a little crazier. The 2015 MLB Draft was around the corner.  

"Going into draft day, the two teams that were talking to me a lot were the Giants and the Dodgers," said Mountcastle. "I didn't know the Orioles were in the question. I had an in-home visit with them with normal 'get-to-know-you' type stuff. Then, out of the blue, it was late in the first round and my agent calls me. He says 'Hey, the Orioles are looking to draft you with pick 36.'

"Everybody in my house is freaking out. I had told my parents not to throw a big party just in case something bad happened. Of course, my dad invited everybody from the neighborhood, so I had about 60 people in my home. I was like 'Oh God, I hope I get picked the first day because if I don't, then it's going to be a little embarrassing.' I couldn't believe it, being a first-round pick. I couldn't have asked for anything better that day."

During the summer of 2015, Mountcastle played 45 games in the Gulf Coast League before heading to Maryland to play the final 10 games with the Class-A Short Season Aberdeen Ironbirds.

"About a week after I got drafted, I went down to Sarasota," said Mountcastle. "That first year in Rookie ball was definitely not easy. It was like a thousand degrees out every day. The games are pretty early in the morning, so I was drinking a lot of coffee, (but) I made a lot of close friends that I still have to this day."

It has not been much of a secret: almost since the beginning of his career in the Minor Leagues, Mountcastle has been a highly-touted prospect. Attention has been near-constant, with a swarm of media and fans alike wondering what is next for the infielder.

For Mountcastle, his natural laid-back and chill personality helps him to take the potential external chaos in stride.

"It's going to be like it. That's what it is like in the big leagues; (now is) probably not even close to what it is like in the big leagues," said Mountcastle. "I don't mind the attention I get right now. You're going to have people that like (me) and people that don't like (me). I can't please everyone. (I'm) just trusting in myself, knowing my ability, and going out there and playing hard every day."

While it may sound easy, Mountcastle continues to prove that keeping the goal in place and the motivation simple is a most successful combination.

"I love competing," said Mountcastle. "I love going out there every day and trying my hardest. I've always tried to win at everything I do and that's the main drive for me, honestly: going out there and trying to be better than the other team, basically."

The road so far has not been without its share of challenges. There are always the expected trials associated with the daily grind of a long minor league season, but August 18, 2017, proved to be much more personal.

Back home in Oviedo, a Florida State University student was walking on Alafaya Trail near the UCF campus. That student's name was Austin Ekern, "Ek" for short. He was a fellow alum Hagerty High School and a friend of Mountcastle's. Early that morning, Ekern was hit by a car and was killed.

The news soon reached the walls of the home clubhouse at Prince George's Stadium.

"My girlfriend called me and said, 'Hey, Austin got hit by a car last night and he passed away. He's gone,'" said Mountcastle. "I was in shock. I didn't know what to say. I had to show up to the field. I had to do my stuff, but I was keeping my head down. It was not an easy day, (but) I had a good group of guys here that helped me through it."

Mountcastle has just one thing on his wrist when he's playing: a green, rubber bracelet inscribed with 'Live Like Ek' in gold letters.

"(Ek) always had a smile on his face (and he) always found a way to brighten your day," said Mountcastle. "He lived life to the fullest. He was the life of the party. When he passed away, it was a shock to everybody (and it) still doesn't seem real. I'm sure he's watching over all of us right now, having a good time upstairs."

That bracelet carries multiple meanings. On one hand, it helps keep the memory of a friend who passed away far too soon alive. On another hand, it serves as an ever-present reminder that Mountcastle is not planning on changing who he naturally is, whether the external spotlight is there or not.

"I am who you see on the field," said Mountcastle. "I'm always having fun. I am always joking with the guys. You just got to keep it light. That's me: laid back and chill."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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