By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Andrew Riddell moved to the United States with one goal in mind.
He wanted to play professional baseball.
“A YouTube video and emails are how it all started,” the Sydney, Australia, native said.
As a high schooler, Riddell contacted about 200 college coaches in the U.S., hoping at least one of them had a roster spot for a 6-foot-5 pitcher with a solid changeup and mid-80s fastball. He got around a half dozen replies, and landed at Dodge City Community College, where he helped the Conquistadors reach the 2015 National Junior College Athletic Association World Series.
After two years in Kansas, Riddell transferred to the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He made 12 appearances and nine starts for the Lopers as a junior in 2016.
Then the versatile right-hander had shoulder reconstruction surgery. He returned to the mound following a redshirt season, but was never the same.
“You kind of have a heart-to-heart with yourself,” Riddell said, realizing the odds of him becoming a big leaguer were slim.
“I decided pretty quickly that I still wanted to be in baseball, and I needed to do what I could to stay in baseball and work my way up,” he said. “Being able to give up one dream and chase another was huge for my development.”
The new dream still involves professional baseball, but now he envisions himself in a Major League front office instead of competing on the field.
As an undergraduate studying sports management, Riddell got his foot in the door by interning with Baseball Australia in summer 2018. The position allowed him to work with prospects and organize youth championships back in his home country.
After graduating in July of that year, Riddell decided to remain at UNK, where he’s pursuing a master’s degree in sports administration and working as a graduate assistant in International Student Services.
He used his experience with Baseball Australia to land an internship last summer with USA Baseball, which was partnering with Major League Baseball to launch a new prospect development league. USA Baseball’s director thought Riddell would be a good fit for the program.
“I obviously jumped at the opportunity,” the UNK student said.
Riddell spent a month at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, with 80 of the top U.S. high school baseball players.
“You’ll hear most of their names in next year’s MLB Draft,” he said.
The Prospect Development Pipeline League gave those players a chance to showcase their talents in front of scouts, coaches and other MLB club representatives.
Serving as coordinator of Prospect Development Pipeline baseball operations, Riddell’s job was to prepare the fields at IMG Academy each day and oversee the players’ time away from baseball, including their sleep schedules, nutrition and entertainment while living in the on-site dorms.
“There are so many things you don’t think about when you’re housing 80 athletes,” he said.
In addition to the hands-on experience, Riddell got to meet some baseball legends during his time in Florida. Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard, Barry Larkin and Chipper Jones were all coaches for the league.
“All four guys were in and out throughout the summer, so I got to work with them,” Riddell said.
He also met Lance Berkman and Andy Pettitte, who recorded a birthday message for Riddell’s father.
“I haven’t been home for my dad’s birthday in about seven years, so to be able to send him a message from Andy Pettitte was pretty cool,” Riddell said.
After leaving Florida, Riddell traveled up the East Coast to Massachusetts, where he worked with collegiate athletes in the Cape Cod Baseball League. USA Baseball used modern technology to complete physical assessments on the players, then shared this information with all 30 major league teams and the MLB Scouting Bureau.
“It was a great experience because I got to see the high school guys, and I also got to see the top collegiate league,” Riddell said of the three-month internship.
Once again, his connections in the sport led to another opportunity.
Riddell was asked to serve as an assistant coach during MLB’s International Prospect Showcase, which featured 34 players from 10 countries, including 14 Australians.
Earlier this fall, Riddell was in Arizona for two weeks to work with the Australian team as they played in front of college coaches and professional scouts. The prospects toured Arizona State University and competed against the Sun Devil baseball team, as well as local high schools, junior colleges and the MLB Urban Youth Academy.
“We had three or four players who will sign pro contracts,” Riddell said.
The 25-year-old will receive his master’s degree from UNK in May, then he hopes to join an MLB organization in a scouting/player development position.
Although it’s not the same goal he had when he first came to the U.S., Riddell says his current career path is “absolutely the next best thing.”
“It’s taken me further than I ever would have gone playing,” he said.