Courtesy of Brandon Costa

Appeared in The Asbury Park Press on July 24, 2008

One of the newest members of the Texarkana Gunslingers of the Continental Baseball League didn't know what to expect.

When former Red Bank Catholic and Felician College pitcher Nick Riker stepped off the plane at his new home away from home, it didn't strike him as all that different. It didn't take long for him to realize this was not the Jersey Shore.

"I flew into Dallas and like any other major city, it was big," said Riker, a right-handed pitcher. "But when we got ten miles outside of Dallas, there was nothing but cows and open fields."

While the former Casey may have felt a little out of place at first, it didn't take him long to get comfortable on the mound at the Ballfields at Craig Ranch where he made his debut on July 6 for the visiting Gunslingers against the McKinney (Texas) Blue Thunder.

Getting the start, Riker gave up just one run on three hits and struck out six. He did not factor into the decision as he threw just 4 innings in the Gunslingers 9-2 win.

"Being out there was the ultimate. Ever since I was a little kid I've wanted to play pro baseball," said Riker. "My job was to throw strikes and get ahead of batters,so I was pleased with my debut."

The strong outing helped Riker make a name for himself far away from the Highlands home where he grew up.

"Texarkana is nice and I really like it down here but it's not home," Riker said. "I left my fiancee at home to come down here and play. So to leave her and my family behind was a big sacrifice."

Helping in the transition process for Riker was signing together with former Felician College teammate and fellow New Jerseyan Scott VanEs, who hails from Secaucus. In fact, Riker first learned of the opportunity at Texarkana through another Felician College player, Frank Quintana.

Riker had just finished taking part in an open tryout in Detroit for all of the independent leagues and had earned a spot in the New York State League. After two weeks and two appearances with the Capitols, Riker called up Quintana to check in when he told him that his club in Texas needed some pitchers.

"I quickly called up the general manager. We set up a tryout and the rest is history," Riker said.

He says that having such a strong Felician connection at Texarkana has helped make it feel like a second family for him.

"Oh, it's great," said Riker of playing with his Golden Falcon teammates. "To have guys I played with during college here is awesome. There's even some I played with and against during high school. It's good to play with guys who already know what you can do and know what you are capable of."

Riker, who also attended Brookdale Community College for two years, posted a 9-8 career record in his two seasons with Felician. Last spring he established the Golden Falcons' single-season strikeout record with 68. He is also ranked fourth in school history on the career wins and strikeouts lists.

While pro ball is usually about developing one's personal game, Riker has gotten caught up in the Gunslingers' fast start to the second half of their season.

"(My) short term (goals are to) do well. The team is currently 8-1, in first place in the league for the second half. It's one of those leagues where the winner of the first half plays winner of second half for the championship. So I really want to get a shot, win the championship and take it home." But for the long haul, Riker's goals are no different from any other player's in the Continental Baseball League.

"This league is a stepping stone for me," he said. "It's a way I can look at myself and see how I can compare with other professional athletes at this level."