Ricky Collings is a man of few words on the baseball field.
He’s not the dugout jokester. He’s not the rah-rah leader who would jump into the middle of a huddle to rally the troops with inspirational words. He’s not the one to whom teammates look to keep things light and breezy after a loss. His nickname, “Ricky Baseball,” is less a term of endearment than a blunt declaration of what Collings is all about.
“Baseball is like my whole life,” Collings said last week. “Everything revolves around it.”
When Collings stands on the mound, the center of a 60-foot, 6-inch ring of solitude, holding the horsehide-covered instrument of power that is a baseball, he comes alive. The rubber is a portal into what Collings calls his zone: A tunnel vision that makes all the noise and distractions go blank. Since Collings was 11 or 12, playing on tournament teams for Marple Township Little League, he could summon that sphere of laser-like concentration on the mound or up to bat.
“It’s hard to explain it, but when I’m on, I’ll just be hitting my spots,” Collings said. “There’s some days where I’m not on, but some games, there is just a zone I get into.”
That about says it all for the Marple Newtown senior, who’s not big on explanation, even about his library of baseball exploits. But on the diamond, his actions spoke as loud as anyone’s this season.
Whether he was on the mound or at bat, Collings was the main protagonist in a talented cast that led Marple Newtown to its first PIAA tournament since 2008 and first PIAA Class AAAA berth ever. Collings helped the Tigers reach the state semifinals, unleashing some of his most assured pitching performances and biggest hits in the postseason.
For that effort, Collings is the 2016 Daily Times Baseball Player of the Year.
Joining him on the All-Delco team are Marple Newtown teammates Alden and Cameron Mathes; the Haverford School trio of Cameron Miller, Tommy Toal and James McConnon; Interboro pitcher Jason Lincoln; Episcopal Academy pitcher/infielder Kyle Virbitsky; Sun Valley pitcher/infielder Christian Bateman; Springfield pitcher/outfielder Jared Morris; Radnor pitcher/outfielder Andrew Austen and Bonner & Prendergast catcher Steve Furman.
Collings and Furman are the only repeat All-Delcos, a pair of four-year starters making their second appearances on the squad. Seniors comprise half of the 12-member team, with a talented junior class of Cameron Mathes, Toal, Virbitsky, Bateman and Morris well represented. Alden Mathes, meanwhile, makes the team as just a freshman, a rare honor for baseball.
The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.
Collings’ all-business approach was reflected by the numbers this season. The Widener commit led the Tigers in batting with a .450 average. He clubbed 36 hits in 28 games, including three triples and six extra-base hits. Collings was third on the team in RBIs (16) and tied for third in runs (15), a perfect three-hitter who melded power with the ability to consistently get on base.
On the mound, Collings’ numbers don’t leap off the page. He went 6-2 in 54 innings with a 3.83 ERA. But the numbers conceal the degree of difficulty of those outings. All six wins came against playoff teams, including two against Springfield and one against Harriton in the regular season en route to a share of the Central League title.
He dialed up the intensity for the postseason with one ice-water-in-the-veins performance after another, save for a staff-wide blip in the District One quarterfinals against Pennridge. Collings went the distance in a 2-1 win over North Penn in the first round of districts. He suffocated Spring-Ford in a four-hitter in the district’s fifth-place game, a 4-1 Tigers win to qualify for states. And he allowed just four hits in gutting out a 3-1 win over Council Rock North in the PIAA quarters.
Alternating with three postseason complete games by Cameron Mathes (Coatesville in the district second round, Perkiomen Valley in the playback semis and Ephrata in the states opener), the Tigers formed a potent pairing.
“That was a big thing, having two pitchers, and we knew we were going to get the job done for the most part,” Collings said. “The pressure situations, I don’t let it get to me at all. I just go through it and don’t put any extra pressure on myself.”
That Collings’ senior season blossomed so spectacularly should come as no surprise. He’s contributed for coach Steve Smith since his freshman campaign with a Tigers program that regularly challenges for playoff berths.
Two moments stand out from that freshman campaign to Smith. Soon after his call-up from JV, Collings belted a home run against Springfield. The Tigers made the District One Class AAA field, drubbed in the first round by eventual champ Upper Moreland. That game was an utter disaster, a 12-0 thrashing in which veteran pitchers Ciaran Cahalane and Matt Young were rocked for 12 runs in two innings.
But up to the mound stepped Collings, a scrawny freshman with a violent delivery that conveys the effort poured into each pitch, who quieted bats for the final two (albeit academic) innings and indicated that Smith had a player for the future.
Collings has occupied various niches. He closed games as a freshman, his give-me-the-ball mentality perfectly tailored for relief. He morphed from a table-setter at the top of the order to a run producer in the middle while developing into an ace who invariably got the job done, comfortably or otherwise.
His zeal for the game has never wavered, for Marple or the last three years on the Delco Carpenter Cup Classic team that made three consecutive trips to the semifinals at Citizens Bank Park, participating this year at the expense of senior week festivities.
The result of the hard work is reflected in Collings’ legacy at Marple, a squad driven by talented underclassmen with promising futures but led by the example of Collings and a handful of seniors. Getting to the state semifinals sets a clear benchmark for the future.
“That was all I wanted to do,” Collings said. “In the beginning of the season, I just wanted to get a couple of playoff wins, because we didn’t have one in three years. Once we started winning games in districts, we just kept going and going, and I was loving it.”