“If you’re going to be an expert in something, pick something no one else is trying. You can claim the top spot pretty easily.” Those words of wisdom come from Gar Ryness, The Batting Stance Guy. They ring true and the proof is right in front of our eyes. He’s turned a backyard parlor trick into a nationally recognized phenomenon.
He’s gone from imitating the 1986 Mets for his Syracuse dorm buddies to performing for major league teams and David Letterman, from YouTube anonymity to a featured spot on the league’s network.
And he’s done it all with the same self-effacing, goofy humor along the way.
“When it went on YouTube, I thought it could find season-ticket holders or people who are kind of dorky, like me, who love this stuff,” Ryness says. “It’s all the guys who were in my fantasy football league, it’s those guys, I thought. If they really liked baseball growing up, they’ll get it and like it. I thought the number was going to be kind of small. What I wasn’t prepared for was the gushing e-mails from people who are 42-years-old, three kids, living in suburban Ohio who felt like this unearthed something they stashed in a trunk 25 years ago. I didn’t anticipate that. It’s amazing, it’s better.”
What is so unique about Batting Stance Guy? Well, think of a baseball player who has played in the majors since 1980. Any player. I can guarantee you Batting Stance Guy can mirror his on-field mannerisms to a tee.
Just don’t ask him how he does it.
“This has been the most surprising part of the whole thing because my grades in high school suggest that I am not gifted with any extra brain power,” he admits. “I assume it’s some form of either RAD memory or Encyclopedic. For whatever reason, it’s just not that difficult. If I’ve heard of a player before or seen a player, I’m somehow able to think about what I remember about them.”
Much like the way “Saturday Night Live” actors turn subjects into slight caricatures of themselves, Ryness often relies on exaggerated motions to get across his impressions.
“I don’t remember seeing Ivan Calderon hit,” Ryness says. “But I remember seeing a couple cards where you could really see his chest hair. A lot of imitation is just bravado. For him, I just walk around like a super-tough guy. So then the person who asked for him, if I just puff my chest out and walk around, I don’t even have to swing. They’ll go, “yes, that’s totally him.”
While he was aiming to reach the die-hard fan at the beginning, he’s gladly jumped at the opportunity to perform at the behest of players over the past five years.
“I was on the field probably twice, with the Twins and Brewers, before I knew the players watched the videos,” he says. “This was in 2008. I was prepared for the announcers to ask and we happened to be doing it on the field. I noticed that when I was doing it, the pitchers in the bullpen stopped and were looking at me. I still thought they assumed I was some sort of juggling clown. It was during a Dodgers pre-game show where I got tapped on the shoulder and told, “Hey, Adrian Gonzalez wants to meet you.” I didn’t even know they were playing San Diego. When I walked over to the Padres, they told me they watched me in the clubhouse all the time. I couldn’t even see straight. I didn’t even know what that meant. I never, ever thought it would get to the players.”
It’s something that didn’t happen overnight, of course. For as long as he’s been able to grip a plastic bat, Ryness has been aping the actions of others. He’d mirror his sisters, brother, or any other relative that crossed his path. It was in his Northern California backyard, however, where he took it to the next level.
“We would just be the lineup,” he recalls. “It wasn’t like 1940s Brooklyn stickball, but it was our version of it with an Easton big barrel and an IncrediBall. That’s where I learned to hit lefty as Tony Phillips, Eddie Milner, whatever the next batter was. Even the guys I played with didn’t know baseball enough to tell me that my stances were really good, that I did look like Howard Johnson.”
For so many of us who grew up doing the same thing, there’s that unmistakable nostalgia factor to what he does. I perfected Rueben Sierra’s leg kick in my own sandlot. My brother could do a spot-on Sammy Sosa. What Ryness has been able to do is take this childhood pastime and turn it into a bizarre art form.
“There’s a purity to stuff you loved when you’re 8 or 9,” he opines. “You don’t even know what to do that’s bad yet. You grow up, you get older, you don’t make your varsity team, you get stiffed for an autograph from your favorite player. And then you put it behind you. Then it’s like finding an old CD or old photos and you realize baseball was so great at that time of your life when you were falling in love with it.”
He tells me players almost always enjoy his impromptu shows, but they don’t come without hazards.
“I was imitating Delmon Young for the Twins,” he laughs. “I stuck my tongue out and stuck my backside way low and kind of hopped around a bit and ran with my arms close to my hips in short little burst steps. Denard Span threw his mitt at me – and hard. He was laughing so hard, he couldn’t handle it. I didn’t even look to see if I should avoid thrown objects. I wasn’t wearing a cup, but it just missed me.”
Ryness says that most pros have a sense of humor about his bit. Of course, some don’t think they possess the twitches and other machinations he incorporates and let him know as much. Others have tremendous self-awareness.
“Daryl Strawberry came out of his shoes when he asked me to imitate him and I asked if he wanted himself on the Mets or Yankees when he used to tug his sleeve way up on the right side,” he claims. “I mean, he almost gave me a hug.”
One gets the sense that makes it all worthwhile for Ryness, though he doesn’t explicitly say so. He makes no secret of his baseball geekiness, no move to run from it. Instead, he embraces it. It’s important to him that this niche of history lives on in some way.
“I think at the end of the day, as strange as it sounds, I’m trying to honor the players," he says."
It makes sense. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.