WHITEFISH — Ryan Veneman had to wait a long time to make his college baseball debut.
He graduated from Whitefish High School in 2017, redshirted at Mesa Community College in 2017-18, sat out the 2018-19 school year recovering from a torn labrum, and then the coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 baseball season.
As it turns out, it was worth the wait for Veneman, who finally saw the field for Lake Region State in 2021.
“I’ve been waiting and itching to finally get a season under my belt. And then things went OK when I finally got to play I guess,” Veneman said in a vast understatement.
His first season of college baseball resulted in three school records at Lake Region State, a junior college in Devils Lake, N.D. The shortstop totaled 44 hits, including eight home runs, with a .380 average, 44 RBI and 34 runs. The hits, home runs and RBIs set school records.
The standout season earned Veneman all-conference and all-region honors.
“I just see a ball, hit a ball. I don’t really think too much when I’m up there. … I definitely did not hit a lot of home runs growing up, but this year I ran into a couple balls and hit eight. I got a lot bigger over the last couple years, grew into my grown-man strength and now I’d say I’m a little bit more of a power hitter than I was,” said Veneman, who now stands 6-foot and 205 pounds.
With Lake Region State’s season ending with losses to Miles Community College and Dawson Community College at the MonDak Conference tournament in early May, Veneman has since returned to Whitefish, where he’s spending the summer as the pitching coach for the Glacier Twins.
It’s the same program Veneman grew up in. In his last season playing with the Twins, the team won the Class A American Legion Baseball state championship in 2018, and then went on to win the Northwest Class A Regional Tournament. Veneman was an all-conference and all-state selection and was named MVP of the state tournament.
“Montana obviously gets a bad rep for not having high school baseball, but I feel like our Legion programs compete enough and they’re good enough to prepare you for the next level,” Veneman said. “There’s good baseball players throughout the state you see growing up and you fit in with everybody else, even though you don’t get to have your high school baseball.”
Montana’s Legion competition obviously helped prepare Veneman for his first season of college baseball, albeit three years later. Now, Veneman is a 22-year-old still with four years of eligibility remaining. The National Junior College Athletic Association Board of Regents voted the 2020-21 school year wouldn’t count against an athlete’s eligibility.
Veneman’s 18-year-old brother Zach just finished his first season play Valley City State, an NAIA school in North Dakota. Zach is back playing with the Twins this season.
“It was kind of a cool experience getting to play the same season as him,” the older brother said. “It’s funny because since COVID happened, this year the junior colleges voted to not count eligibility, so my 18-year-old brother will be a sophomore next year, and I still will be a freshman eligibility-wise.”
As it turns out, that long wait to play college baseball just keeps paying off.