EDITOR'S NOTE: The Swnews4u.com Athlete of the Week is a web-only feature that will publish each Thursday throughout the calendar year.
Ryan Kussmaul, P, Milwaukee Milkmen (2005 Fennimore HS graduate)
MILWAUKEE — Ryan Kussmaul’s baseball life has taken him all over the globe.
The Fennimore native, who will celebrate his 34th birthday Saturday, is still living his childhood dream as a professional baseball player
The right-hander pitcher is now in his 12th season as a professional and is currently on the brink of winning a league championship while playing this summer for the Milwaukee Milkmen of the 12-team American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
Kussmaul helped the Milkmen (34–26) win the regular season, clinching the division title by two games over the Sioux Falls Carnaries last week and was the winning pitcher in relief (2 IP, 2H, 1 ER, 3K) during Milwaukee’s 11–6 Game 1 victory over Sioux Falls Saturday in the American Association Finals championship series.
Milwaukee took a 3–0 series lead with a 2–0 victory in Game 2 Sunday night and a 10–5 road win in Games 3 Tuesday night. Sioux Falls extended the series with a 5–3 win Wednesday, but Kussmaul and the Milkmen can clinch the title with a win in tonight's Game 5 at Sioux Falls. Game 6, if necessary, is scheduled for Friday at 7:05 p.m. in Milwaukee.
This year’s American Association season was shortened to 60 games —played in July, August and September — due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with just six of the league teams competing this summer (instead of all 12 league members) in three hubs; Fraklin, Wisc., Fargo N.D. and Sioux Falls, S.D.
Kussmaul, a 2005 graduate of Fennimore High School, compiled a 5–2 record in 11 regular season starts, with a 4.83 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings as the team’s number two pitcher after a shaky start due in part to a false positive COVID test just three days before his first game.
“The experience this year has been an interesting one,” said Kussmaul. “We as a team go through daily protocols that was annoying at first and eventually became routine and don’t even notice it anymore as far as filling out a symptoms sheet and getting our temperature taken daily.
“I was actually tested positive three days before my first start of the season. It affected me mentally but physically I was fine with no symptoms. I went and got tested again immediately before my starts three times, all 24 hours apart. According to the league in order to play I had to do it that way to prove it was a false positive. All three results came back negative and I was cleared to play. But I didn’t pitch very well at the beginning of the season because it affected me in the mind, as I knew I was around a lot of family and friends.
“Protocol for the county was for me to reach out to everyone I came in contact with so they could do tracing. I had to give up phone numbers for the health department to reach out to them all. It was very stressful. I am really glad nothing horrible happened as there were a lot of false positives during that time. Everything worked out and family and friends were safe as well.”
Kussmaul began gaining momentum in late July and a bumpy start and turned his individual season around by going 5–0 with a 3.58 ERA during a seven-start stretch from July 19 to Aug. 23.
He also is grateful for the opportunity to pitch just three hours away from his hometown on a regular basis.
“It’s been amazing to see friends and family in the stands this year as many have wanted to come watch me through the years but I’ve been so far away that it’s been impossible,” added Kussmaul. “The fact that I’m in Milwaukee gives them the opportunity to come out. Hopefully, I’ll be here again next year and COVID is gone so more people can come out and enjoy the venue in Franklin. It’s an amazing experience out here.”
Kussmaul, who pitched for two years at Madison College (formerly Madison Area Technical College), where he was drafted in the 42nd round of the 2006 MLB draft by the Florida Marlins (now Miami) and finished his collegiate career at the University of Mount Olive (N.C.).
He began his professional career playing for the Southern Illinois Miners of the independent Frontier League in 2009. Midway through the 2010 season at Southern Illinois, Kussmaul signed a Minor League contract with the Chicago White Sox.
He then spent parts of six seasons (2010–15) in the White Sox organization being promoted all the way to the AAA Charlotte Knights in both 2012 and 2014. He posted a 14–8 mark with a 2.80 ERA, 31 saves and 299 strikeouts in six Minor League seasons at various levels.
Kussmaul’s baseball odyssey has also led him to playing professional baseball during the winter in six different countries,Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Taiwan.
“What’s it like for me is a dream,” said Kussmaul. “I always wanted to travel, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to because of baseball. I don’t think I was ever scared, only anxious or nervous, and excited, knowing I’d meet new people within different cultures and putting myself in vulnerable situations not knowing fluent Spanish.
“You learn to communicate with broken communication and people are amazing when it comes to helping others especially in Venezuela. That country gets such a bad rep from our news outlets, but it’s such an amazing country. I love it there and if it was up to me I’d live there if the economy and government got things back to normal. Sixty years ago it was fourth in the world economic freedom index. All in all I really soak it all in and try to learn as much as I can because I treat it as if it may be taken way from me on any given day. So during my free time before my games I go within the cities to explore and see how people live their everyday lives. It’s amazing to see with your own eyes.”
Kussmaul isn’t sure what will happen with Winterball this year as many countries have limited the number of foreign-born roster players allowed and cut salaries in half due to COVID, but he already has offers from Barranquilla (Columbia) and an offer with an Australian team in Adelaide so far.
Kussmaul plans to pitch as long as his arm holds up and hopes to work in a minor league front office following his retirement.
“I ended up with the Milkmen because I called for an interview with them last year when they were a new team. It’s been in the works for two years now, but I ended up in New Jersey and Mexico last year because Milwaukee’s stadium wouldn’t be finished until mid-season. They were playing at another location that wasn’t really professionally equipped so I said I’d wait a year. I contacted them because I told them I wanted to come and play in Wisconsin and also start working in their front office. So that’s in the works post baseball career, when the arm can’t take the grind anymore.”
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order):
Kayci Martensen, Jr., Southwestern/Cuba City/Benton girls cross country
Martensen covered Darlington’s 5,000-meter course in an all-time record time of 19:27.4 to claim the girls’ individual title. Belleville’s Noelle Maire set the previous record of 19:29 in 2016.
George West, So., Darlington boys cross country
West finished .2 of a second ahead of defending SWAL champion Nick Connolly, a senior from Iowa-Grant, to capture the boys’ individual title in a winning time of 18:03.3. West and the Redbirds ran in the second boys’ race, while Connolly and his Panthers ran in the third boys’ race. Boscobel breezed to the boys’ varsity team title with 59 points, finishing ahead of both D/MP (83) and the host Redbirds (91) for top honors.