It is deadly quiet as Ryan Dromboski stares down his batter with a glare made even more intimidating by the pitch that waits behind it. Dromboski is in his natural habitat, atop the hill on Tommy Lasorda Field at Meiklejohn Stadium, just sitting, waiting to strike.
“On the field, I would say I’m a psychopath," he said.
Dromboski flicks into motion and fires a pitch past Princeton’s Nick DiPietrantonio, striking him out and making him the fourteenth Tiger batter to be rung up by Dromboski in the afternoon. The strikeout ends the inning, protects a 3-2 Penn advantage, and ties the Quaker program record for Ks in a single game, a record he would break just two innings later.
As the ball meets the catcher’s glove, Dromboski breaks the silence with a roar.
“With those high stakes pitches, I think that whatever I feel on the mound will be reciprocated by the team,” Dromboski said. “I love playing this game with energy. I want to have fun in this game. I want to play this game because I love it, and not because I have to.”
It is Dromboski’s electric energy — his earth-quaking yells and his boot-shaking stares — that has powered him to the pinnacle of Ivy League baseball. After a freshman season that saw him pitch a total of just five innings, all in relief, Dromboski returned with a vengeance for year two, leading the Ancient Eight in strikeouts and earning the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year award.
“I think it’s really hard for freshmen to show up on campus — they’re trying to figure a lot of different things out,” Penn baseball coach John Yurkow said of Dromboski’s year-to-year transformation. “There could be a lot on their plate … when [Dromboski] went away for summer ball, I think that’s where a lot of changes occurred. He got some confidence, made some mechanical adjustments, his velocity started to go up, and then he came back in the fall and he was like an entirely different kid.”
For the man known primarily as "Drombo," personal achievements are seen as only a secondary benefit. His stellar campaign helped the Red and Blue to the greatest season in program history, including the first Ivy League title since 1995 and an NCAA Tournament run that fell one win shy of the first Super Regional appearance ever by an Ivy League school.
“Once we started to play as an official team, that’s when things started to turn around for the better,” Dromboski said. “Individually, I had a whole different mentality than [freshman year], which was a very selfish mentality because of how limited my innings were … [This year was about] learning to realize that this is bigger than yourself. This season is bigger than me.”
That is not to say that the entire campaign was smooth sailing for Dromboski or the Quakers. Penn dropped their first Ivy League series to Harvard, where Dromboski allowed five hits and four runs in three innings of work. The Quakers later faced the Crimson again in the Ivy League tournament and again turned to Drombsoki, but the Ancient Eight’s ultimate ace again struggled, allowing six hits and four earned runs.
Penn still prevailed over Harvard, and advanced to the NCAA tournament with a thumping victory over Princeton. That set the stage for a titanic tilt with the No. 13 Auburn Tigers, and with their season on the line, the Quakers turned to their Tiger hunter.
“Going into Auburn, that week preparing was definitely a big step for me,” Dromboski said. “The first couple days I was a little hard on myself, but I attribute it to the senior pitching staff as well as the coaches just letting me do my thing, letting me figure it out … Then, I was just like, ‘Let’s go into Auburn and show them what Penn is all about.’”
What followed was a game that left an indelible impression — an unprecedented upset. The Quakers became the first Ivy League team in history to defeat a Southeastern Conference school in the NCAA tournament, knocking off the Tigers in a 6-3 eleven inning thriller. Dromboski was brilliant, striking out eight Tigers and allowing just three hits.
Still, even in such a dominant performance, Dromboski’s most important contribution was sparking the fire.
“I got two strikeouts to end [the 5th] inning, and I came off the mound like, ‘Let’s go! We got this!’” Dromboski said. “It was to get my team going, to get them to believe, ‘We can do this, we’re there.’”
“I wasn’t sure how [Dromboski] was going to handle being on a stage like that with so much energy in the crowd,” Yurkow said. “6,500 people at the game, and most of them are rooting for the Auburn Tigers, not the Penn Quakers. But I think the guys really rallied around him.”
Whether it is a punishing slider or a jolt of inspiration, Dromboski is the man for the job. It will be some time before he takes the mound for the first start of his junior season, a day that will signal the beginning of a new chapter for both the Quakers and their ace. But regardless of how Dromboski’s pitches fly that day, one thing is certain: No one will be having more fun.