AMERICAN FORK — American Fork’s Riley Ottesen has as many pitches as Penn & Teller have tricks. He’s the Wizard of Oz in Utah high school baseball and the diamond is his yellow brick road.
But make no mistake: His fastball is no illusion and his curveball is no manipulation. Ottesen, who is 3-0 this season, leaves nothing to the imagination and is often regarded as the top player in the state.
Which makes his decision to put baseball in the on-deck circle as mystifying as linking rings and disappearing acts.
The senior has decided to delay his baseball career to serve an LDS mission to Nagoya, Japan. He will report to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Missionary Training Center on Aug. 7 directly out of high school.
“I think it shocked everybody when he decided he was going to go,” American Fork coach Jared Ingersoll said. “Riley is a great individual. He really genuinely cares about people.”
Even for Ottesen, the choice to sacrifice baseball for his religion wasn’t expected until late February.
“For a long time I had always made the decision that I was going straight to college to play ball,” he explained. Then, he added, "I had experiences that were really meaningful to me in my life. It made me really take a step back and realize what I want and need in my life.”
The destination is surreal for Ottesen, who studies the Japanese language in school.
“When I actually read the words that I’m going to Japan (it) was pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s a baseball country; maybe I could learn a few tips out there and bring them to America.”
The moment marked the pinnacle in his lifestyle transformation.
Ottesen enrolled at American Fork after attending Lone Peak as a sophomore despite growing up in AF boundaries. He relocated to the neighboring school as he coped with personal family matters that he “had to get away from” before transferring back home.
“When things started straightening up with my family I moved back in with my parents,” Ottesen explained.
There he started implementing positive lifestyle changes with the guidance and disciplined structure of Ingersoll’s program.
“Personally it’s changed my life. I’ve made decisions that I probably wouldn’t have ever made playing for Lone Peak. Coach Ingersoll has really gotten me in line,” Ottesen said. “He’s taught me really valuable lessons — not only on the baseball field — but in life. Coach Ingersoll and all the coaches have been the biggest blessing. Because of them I’ve grown up a lot.”
In his junior season, Ottesen was honored as the Deseret News 5A MVP after propelling the Cavemen to their first title in 27 years. He blistered batters with a 1.44 earned run average and finished 9-1 on the season.
“He’s got good velocity and he’s got a really sharp breaking ball,” Ingersoll said. “When he’s in the zone he’s pretty tough to square up.”
The success ultimately led to his commitment to the University of Utah, a fulfillment of dedication that began at 9 years old.
“I’ve played with some of the boys up there for six-seven years. So I’d be really comfortable being around them,” Ottesen said of Utah. “Obviously being in the Pac-12 is huge. It’s really good competition and I’m all about trying to play against the best.”
His ability to throw off-speed pitches for strikes keeps batters from sagging off in anticipation for his fastball that regularly clocks in the 90s. His polished repertoire has generated interest from the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks, which have all scouted Ottesen in person.
The extra attention only raised the ante.
In American Fork’s 6-0 win against Lehi last week, Ottesen hurled his first career no-hitter on 115 pitches with 13 strikeouts.
“I didn’t really know that I had a no-hitter — I wasn’t thinking about it,” Ottesen said. “The only time I actually thought about it was the last hitter. I was like, ‘Wait I don’t think anyone has got a hit on me?’ The last hitter actually hit a line drive and almost had a base hit. So, when the third baseman caught it I was just stunned. I was super happy that I accomplished a goal in life.”
Humbly, he deflected the credit.
“My defense worked really well behind me,” Ottesen said. “It’s really nice to have such an amazing defense because I have so much more confidence. With no defense there’s no such thing as a no-hitter.”
The experiences at American Fork have been a blessing in disguise for Ottesen, but before he journeys 5,600 miles from Salt Lake City to Nagoya, he has one final curtain call. The Cavemen are favored to repeat once again in May and with every championship run comes a little magic.