Texas A&M’s Prager returns to Metroplex this weekend
Photos: Courtesy Texas A&M Athletics
Texas A&M redshirt sophomore pitcher Ryan Prager, a Dallas native and the 2021 Hillcrest High School valedictorian, returned to the Aggies’ pitching staff this season after missing last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s pictured here in the Aggies’ season opener, a 15-0 win over McNeese State. Prager is 2-0 with 19 strikeouts through his first two starts this season.

By Michael Sudhalter

Texas A&M redshirt sophomore pitcher Ryan Prager calls his Jewish faith one of the “foundations” of his life. Prager grew up attending Sunday school at Temple Emanu-El and became a bar mitzvah there.

“Baseball doesn’t define who you are,” Prager said. “It’s having that anchor to go back to and Jewish faith is part of it because of all the family virtues that come with it. It doesn’t matter what happens on a daily basis on the baseball field or in the classroom, because you have certain things as the foundation of your life.”

Prager, a 21-year-old Dallas native who was the Hillcrest High School class of 2021 valedictorian, surely leaned on that foundation over the past year and a half.

As a freshman in the spring of 2022, Prager helped the Aggies reach the College World Series for just the seventh time in program history. He struck out 53 batters and earned a win in an NCAA Regional game against TCU. He even started a game against eventual CWS runner-up, Oklahoma.

“In the OU game, I got out there and had to breathe,” Prager said. “It was my first time pitching that I felt my heart racing.”

Soon after the CWS, Prager learned that he would need Tommy John ulnar collateral ligament reconstructive surgery.

“It wasn’t an injury where there was a sudden pop or pain,” Prager said. “It gradually got worse over time.”

Prager may be a redshirt sophomore athletically, but he’s a junior academically. He had the surgery in September 2022 and spent the 2023 season recovering from the injury.

“I had a chance to reset and address some parts of my body that needed addressing,” Prager said. “I (now) have a deeper understanding of the game.”

Prager’s off to a strong start this season as a member of the Aggies’ starting rotation. In his first game on the mound since the surgery, he allowed just one hit and struck out nine in five innings of a 15-0 season-opening victory over McNeese State on Feb. 16 in College Station.

“I was very grateful to be out there again,” Prager said. “There were a ton of different emotions during the day — I was excited, nervous and anxious. Once I got to the field and around (my teammates), I felt calmer. That’s a testament to how close our team is. It was smooth sailing after the first inning.”

He followed that up with a 10-strikeout effort to earn the victory in a 17-2 win over Wagner on Feb. 23 for the Aggies, who started the season at 6-0.

Prager will be back in the Metroplex this weekend as A&M faces Arizona State, twice, and USC in the Globe Life Field Series in Arlington, at the home of his beloved Texas Rangers. Game times are 6 p.m. Friday (ASU), 2 p.m. Saturday (USC) and 11 a.m. Sunday (ASU).

“It is super-exciting because it’s a new field and I haven’t been there a whole lot,” Prager said. “When your hometown team is the one that plays 81 games there, it’s fun to play in it. It’s great to play in front of a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, with family and friends there to support me.”

As a freshman, Prager competed in the Frisco Classic at the home of the Rangers’ Double-A affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders.

Prager became a Rangers fan in elementary school and was surrounded by red-and-blue-clad fans during the excitement of the 2010 and 2011 teams that reached the World Series.

Last fall’s remarkable World Series championship was extra-sweet for Prager, as the A&M campus has a strong mix of both Rangers and Astros fans. However, Prager’s circle of friends skews more toward Astros fandom.

“Me and one of my other friends on the team were the only Rangers fans,” Prager said. “Four of us — two Rangers fans and two Astros fans — went to Minute Maid Park in Houston for Game 7 of the World Series. (The Astros fans) had a lot to say on the way there, but they had nothing to tell me on the way back because one team was heading to the World Series and the other team was heading home.”

Prager’s father and “best friend,” Howard Prager, ironically was drafted by the Houston Astros out of UT Arlington in 1989.

Howard, who is now 56 years old, played in the Astros’ farm system from 1989 to 1992 and the St. Louis Cardinals’ system from 1993 to 1995, rising to Triple-A Louisville. The W.T. White graduate is still undoubtedly a fan of the Rangers.

“My father and I had a lot of conversations,” Prager said. “Whether it was sneaking off to the batting cages or watching a Rangers game on television, we were constantly talking about baseball in our free time, especially when I got to high school. The biggest thing he asked me was ‘Do you want to go to college and have a full time job at the same time?’ because that’s basically what college athletics really is.”

Prager is glad to play his home games at Blue Bell Park, the Aggies’ home field, which holds a capacity of 6,100 fans.

“The fans are awesome,” Prager said. “We played a game at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday with a basketball game following it. We still had 4,800 people there.”

In high school, Prager played for both the Dallas Mustangs club team and the Hillcrest High School Panthers.

Prager credits Jack Sharp, leader of the Mustangs and a Tampa Bay Rays scout, with helping him develop as a baseball player.

At Hillcrest, Prager played alongside teammates who he’d known since he was in kindergarten. Because the COVID-19 pandemic virtually eliminated his junior season, Prager had just three seasons of high school baseball.

He was the valedictorian of a senior class with approximately 280 students.

“It was (due) to a lot of hard work,” Prager said. “I have a competitive mindset, not only in the baseball field, but also the classroom. It was kind of cool because two of my really good buddies and I finished 1-2-3 academically. We were actually 3-2-1 in the (baseball) lineup as I think of it. Our competitiveness in the classroom is one reason why we were so close.”

During his valedictorian’s address, Prager cited the book “Grit” by Angela Duckworth because of its emphasis on the ability for “passion and perseverance to overcome obstacles.”

“It was relevant because we went through COVID-19 during high school,” Prager said.

Prager, a business management major, would love to play baseball professionally and someday become a sports agent or business leader.

As for now, he’s making the most of every day in Aggieland.

“There’s so much up in the air with that with things that are out of your control,” Prager said. ”I can compete at some point to be (in Major League Baseball). You don’t want to look too far ahead in the future because you’ll start having anxiety and expectations instead of being where your feet are.”

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