When he straps on his catcher’s mask as a member of Ohio State’s baseball team next season, Buckeye Valley senior Evan Ulrich vows not to forget where he came from and how he got there.
"I want to be a person that young, budding players from small towns and small schools look up to," Ulrich said. "I want them to realize that no matter where you come from and how undersized you might be, people will find you if you put in the work."
In truth, Ulrich found Ohio State.
As a youngster, he participated in former coach Bob Todd’s summer camps "at least six or seven times" and forged working relationships with former Buckeyes standout catchers Dan Burkhart and Brian Mannino. Burkhart, who spent three seasons in the San Francisco Giants organization, became Ulrich’s personal coach.
"Playing at Ohio State and ultimately getting drafted were always dreams for me," Ulrich said. "It never really sunk in that I might be decent until I saw my name on some (recruiting) lists, went to a few showcases and saw college scouts writing notes. Even though I’ve signed now, it’s still extremely surreal."
A native of Ostrander, a village of roughly 700 in western Delaware County, Ulrich recalls getting his start as a left-hander playing in the Bellepoint Recreation League at age 4 or 5.
"About a year or two later, when my dad saw how much I loved the game, he pointed out to me that there we no left-handed shortstops, so we spent three or four solid weeks learning how to make the switch to throwing right-handed," he said.
Within a few years, Ulrich had fallen in love with catching.
"I wanted to be involved in every play," he said. "So making the transition (to right-handed) wasn’t a waste of time since they are no left-handed catchers, either."
By the time Ulrich got to high school, Buckeye Valley coach Drew Kirby knew the young man was special.
"Aside from his obvious talent, the first thing I noticed about Evan was that he was a high-character guy and a natural leader," Kirby said. "His love for the program and his teammates was off the charts. My 4-year-old daughter loves him like a big brother, if that tells you anything."
The fact that Ulrich is just 5 feet 10, 160 pounds didn’t stop him from excelling or Ohio State coach Greg Beals from recruiting him.
"In my 12 years of coaching, he’s hands-down the best catcher I’ve seen from a defensive standpoint," Kirby said. "He has the complete package: receiving ability, footwork, throwing mechanics, his relationships with pitchers. I think just about anybody would agree that he was the top catcher in Ohio this year."
In 2019, Ulrich batted .463 with 18 RBI, nine extra-base hits and nine stolen bases. He earned second-team All-Ohio.
His senior season, however, was lost when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a shutdown of sports.
Upon signing with Ohio State in November 2019, Ulrich became part of a small number of Buckeye Valley athletes to play Division I athletics.
"Evan is a very skilled player with a strong baseball IQ," Beals said in a signing day release. "His ability to catch and throw, and combined with his gamesmanship, is exactly what we are looking for behind the plate."
Ulrich said he plans to play for an elite team sponsored by Bo Jackson this summer, but schematics of workouts, games and social distancing are still being worked out.
"I guess you could say baseball is in my blood," Ulrich said. "It always has been."