CHICAGO — Ryan Kramer's scrappy, blue-collar roots on the baseball diamond are a direct reflection of the blue-collar Garfield Ridge neighborhood where he honed his skills.
The Nazareth Academy senior, who will play in Friday's IHSA Class 3A baseball state semifinals against St. Francis High School from suburban Wheaton, said living near Midway Airport shaped his will to stay away from gangs and sharpened his ability to hit a baseball.
"Living here, it's not one of the more wealthy neighborhoods, but my neighbors look out for each other," said Kramer, a right fielder who batted .587 in the regular season and was named East Suburban Catholic Conference MVP.
"It's not the greatest neighborhood; there's gangs, and a lot of kids fall into that stuff, but it just made me into the person I am today."
Ryan Kramer was named conference MVP this season. [Varsity Views]
Kramer, who graduated from St. Daniel the Prophet elementary school, said he recalls watching a "full-out gang fight" when he was a 13-year-old at nearby Normandy Park.
"They had bricks, guns and bats," Kramer said.
Kramer has always seemed to carry a bat or ball around, too, but only for baseball purposes. He said his father, Wayne — a Chicago Police officer and former baseball and football star at De La Salle Institute — always tells him a story that Kramer was "always carrying a ball or bat or golf club in my hands."
"I started out playing early, and I just fell in love with it," said Kramer, who first competed as a 4-year-old T-Ball player in the Clear Ridge Little League.
Justin Breen says Kramer has a blue-collar, hard-working attitude:
Ryan Kramer is in the state semifinals for the first time on Friday. [Varsity Views]
Kramer also was a standout receiver on Nazareth's football team, which beat St. Francis in a Class 6A state semifinal on its way to the state title. He said baseball is his true passion, though, and he'll next play for Division III Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis.
Kramer, who bats leadoff and hit four home runs this season, prides himself on making contact with the ball. His coach at Nazareth, Lee Milano, simply said Kramer "has had a tremendous year."
Kramer is in the state semifinals for the first time, although Nazareth (31-8) has reached the final four three times in the last five years. Milano gives much of the credit to a group of Chicago players — there are eight on the team, including Kramer — who make the commute to the school's suburban La Grange Park location.
And Kramer said finally getting the state semis — held at Joliet's Silver Cross Field — is "something I've always been dreaming about."
Ryan Kramer with his parents, Wayne and Gina. Kramer also was a football standout for Nazareth, which plays in the baseball state semifinals on Friday. [Ryan Kramer]
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