A year out of baseball was long enough for the Ryan Garko family.
The former Servite High School star gave pharmaceutical sales the old college try, but the diamond was still whispering his name.
So with some nudging from his wife, Christie, he picked up the phone last summer and began dialing friends, acquaintances, any connections the 35-year-old gathered during a playing career that included a half-dozen seasons in the major leagues.
One of those numbers belonged to Gabe Kapler, the minor-league farm director for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The conversation obviously went well. Shortly afterward, Garko put away his Rolodex and pulled out his baseball cap as the new manager of the Tulsa Drillers, the Double-A minor-league affiliate for the Dodgers.
“I just missed the game too much,” Garko told Orange County Catholic. “Baseball’s my path.”
The journey may have been much shorter, Garko says, if not for his experience at Servite and the support he received from Christie, whom he met while playing in the Arizona Fall League a little more than 12 years ago.
It was Christie who sensed her husband missed baseball and encouraged him to give coaching another try. She missed the game too. After all, they met when he was fresh out of Stanford, just scratching the surface of his professional playing career, and built their life around the sport.
They celebrated Garko’s promotion to the major leagues late in the 2005 season, which consisted of one at-bat with the Cleveland Indians, and basked in his pinnacle year of 2007, when he belted 21 home runs as their full-time first baseman, batted .289 and collected a 17-game hitting streak along the way.
They endured the difficult transition back to the fringe of major league baseball, bouncing back and forth between the minors and big leagues and even overseas to Korea for half a year, holding onto the dream for as long as possible before Garko’s playing opportunities finally dried up in 2013.
Garko returned to Stanford as an assistant coach the following season, but the birth of his second child, a son named James, increased his desire to spend more time with his family and give the corporate world a try.
“There was a little piece of me that wondered what it would be like to go out and work and have a little bit more of a 9-to-5 schedule,” he says.
A few months of watching Ryan head off to work every day was more than enough for Christie to decide they were built for their former life.
“She was the one who told me to start making a list and start making some calls,” Garko says. “She says something to me I’ll never forget… She says, ‘We’ll figure it out, the kids will love it, the kids will grow up around the game and be happy, and yeah, we’ll travel a little bit, and you’ll be gone a little bit, but in the end you’ll be more successful doing something you love.’”
Garko’s smooth transition into professional coaching is a testament to his reputation in the sport, one that was built on a foundation of values he learned at Servite, he says.
“What Servite has taught me is approaching things with some humility and some faith and some trust–just in God and love and treating people well–and good things will happen,” he says.
Garko is certainly a testament to that as well.