Ryan Etsell making his pitch for the Phillies

The North Catholic High School grad and lifelong Phillies fan signed onto the team last month.

Ryan Etsell pitched in the Los Angeles Angels system before the North Catholic grad signed with the Phillies last month. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY RYAN ETSELL

Ryan Etsell remembers his last trip to Clearwater, Florida, vividly.

Etsell, then a student at North Catholic High School, made the trip south with his family to watch the Phillies prepare for the season. He even made the news while down there.

“Me and my brothers were hanging over watching Cole Hamels warm up, and it made it in one of the newspapers,” Etsell recalled. “I’ve been a Phillies fan my whole life. I had to skip a few days of school to go down there, but we had a great time.”

Etsell is returning to Clearwater in a few weeks, but this time, he’ll be the one fans are watching.

Etsell, a 2010 graduate of North Catholic, signed a minor league contract with the Phillies. He’ll head to Clearwater on Jan. 10 to prepare for the upcoming season. Spring training begins in February, but he’ll spend the days before it officially starts by working out with the organization.

For Etsell, signing with his hometown team is a huge reward for a lot of hard work.

“I’ve thought about signing with the Phillies my whole life, I’ve always been a big fan and when I was younger, I played for the Phillies RBI team,” said Etsell, who grew up in Tacony and now lives in Pennypack. “I had a workout for the Phillies, about two months ago, and when I was there I saw (Phillies director of amateur scouting) Rob Holiday and he recognized me.

“It took some time after the tryout, the Phillies were really busy with Doc Halladay passing away and then hiring a new manager. I was waiting, and my agent called me on Dec. 18, my 26th birthday, and they brought me down to Citizens Bank Park and I signed. It was a great birthday.”

Even better when you consider where he came from.

Etsell, who starred at North and at Hillsborough Community College, was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels and was pitching in their system when he suffered an arm injury in 2015.

He underwent Tommy John surgery on his right arm in February, sending him to the sidelines and out of baseball for most of last year.

Prior to the injury, Etsell went 12–11 with a 4.28 earned run average in the Angels system.

“I ended up signing with an independent league, I made six starts, mostly to knock the rust off and see how I felt,” said Etsell, who maintained a 2.42 earned run average with 18 strikeouts in the Frontier League. “Coming back from Tommy John was tough. It’s hard because the physical therapy is something you have to do multiple times a week, it’s an everyday thing. It was pretty difficult, but it feels really good.

“I was working out with guys in the Angels system, and I saw other guys come back from it. It was good to see guys who went through the same surgery come back, some were better than ever after the surgery.”

That’s what Etsell is expecting for himself.

He’s been working out hard since getting cleared to return to the mound, and since he’s been back, he’s been pain free.

Now that he’s no longer worried about the injury, his concern is getting back into the game and moving up the Phillies system.

“My №1 goal is to stay healthy,” Estell said. “My goal is to make the big leagues. That’s why everyone plays. I want to move up, but at the end of the day, I want to help the organization as much as possible. Keep improving and get better.

“Playing professional baseball is a huge honor, and playing for the Phillies is extra special because I’ve been a big fan my entire life.”

Etsell isn’t the only one celebrating the recent signing.

Since he signed his name on the dotted line, Etsell and his family have been receiving all kinds of well wishes.

People who remember him throwing at Vogt Playground or watching him earn Most Valuable Player honors during North Catholic’s final season are very vocal about their pride in the local guy representing the local team.

“It’s been great, everyone is reaching out and letting us know they’re happy,” said Estell, who has been working as a youth baseball instructor during his downtime. “My dad is a bartender at Chickie’s and Pete’s, and people will tell him at the bar they’re very happy. My mom and brothers, and myself, we’ve all been getting texts.

“I think my phone will be blowing up during spring training with people coming down. My focus is pitching and getting ready, I haven’t really thought too much about how great it is. I’m excited, but my focus is on pitching. Maybe when I’m down at spring training, I’ll have a pinch-myself moment or maybe in a few years, but right now I’m focused on getting better and getting ready for the season.” ••