By CONOR NICHOLL
Fort Hays State University junior left fielder Ryan Busboom went from a likely redshirt to earning first-team All-American honors in less than a year.
Busboom a Cortland, Neb. native and Barton Community College transfer, was an infielder when he came to the Tigers.
Coach Steve Johnson told Busboom in the fall the junior would most likely redshirt on a senior-laden team.
"Then I had a real good fall," Busboom said. "He said probably not going to redshirt. That was a good sign."
Busboom switched to left field and beat out Anthony Salinas, an all-MIAA honorable mention selection in 2011 who had arm problems this spring. Busboom started every game and finished with one of the best lines in Tiger history -- .386 average, 16 homers, 66 RBIs, .445 on-base percentage and .718 slugging percentage with 145 total bases.
He helped the Tigers to a 29-24 record and second-place finish in the MIAA conference tournament. Nationally, Busboom was seventh in RBIs, ninth in homers and 16th in slugging percentage.
Busboom missed out on MIAA Player of the Year honors, but has collected multiple national awards in recent weeks.
The Tigers' first baseball All-American since Dusty Washburn in 2008, Busboom was Daktronics South Central Region Player of the Year, Daktronics First-Team All-American and First-Team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
"It means a lot," Busboom said. "It just shows that hard work pays off. Wasn't sure at the beginning of the year what my position was going to be, what I was going to be hitting, if I was going to be playing."
As the spring progressed, Busboom asked Johnson for a connection with the Hays Larks. The Larks picked Busboom up for the summer and expect to move him back to the corner infield positions when their roster is set.
"We saw what Ryan was doing and Ryan wanted to play for us so bad," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "Early on, we didn't have any roster space. Coach (Keith Harper) and I talked, 'We got to find a spot, we got to find a spot.'
"That was part of the depth that we had," he added. "We signed him. We could not afford not to sign him. Great kid. Got to meet him, got to see him play. Great player, too. We are excited to have him on board. Now, with losing some more of that depth (with injuries), he is going to become even more of a bigger player for us."
In Friday's 5-3 season-opening victory against Denver at Larks Park, Busboom played left field and batted cleanup. He went 1 of 4 with a double and a walk. Leo and Johnson have been = impressed with Busboom's short swing.
"With the kind of swing that he has, he will be successful with wood," Leo said. "Because it's not a big, long swing. It's a nice, compact swing. He stays very quiet, has good discipline. That relates to being successful no matter what level you are at."
Late spring, Johnson started to push for Busboom as MIAA's Player of the Year.
Historically, the MIAA coaches rarely vote for a Player of the Year who doesn't come from the conference champion -- even if another player on a lesser team has better numbers. That happened again this spring when University of Central Missouri shortstop Bret Schwartz was MIAA Player of the Year and the Mules rolled to the conference tournament.
Schwartz hit .358 with no homers and 37 RBIs and led the league in sacrifices, assists and fielding double plays.
On Friday, more than three weeks after the all-MIAA team was released, there was still plenty of talk on how Busboom didn't earn Player of the Year. Busboom, known for his calm demeanor, wasn't upset after he still collected unanimous first team all-MIAA.
"He played on the best team in the conference," Busboom said. "They deserved to have someone get it, I suppose. Heard that I got first team and thought that was good enough."
In the fall and during the first three weeks of spring, Busboom felt competition, including from Salinas who eventually hit .241 in 54 at-bats.
"I had to beat somebody out," Busboom said. "I knew that I could play first, third, left or right and DH."
Busboom went 4 for 13 (.308 average) with no extra base hits in the season-opening series against West Texas A&M. He then became comfortable in the second series against Northwest Missouri State University and started a season-long, 17-game hitting streak.
"Ever since then, I just got hot," he said.
Busboom's biggest game came against Bethany College on April 24 when he finished 5 of 6 with three homers, five runs scored and seven RBIs.
He had a chance at the MIAA triple crown -- average, homers and RBIs -- but saw his average drop a little in the last several weeks. Still, he led the MIAA in multiple statistics, including homers, RBIs and slugging percentage, enough to go from nearly redshirted to All-American.
"It's a little weird," he said. "Anything can happen."