From dirt bikes to dirt-ball reads, Ryder Helfrick has always been defined by his fearless attitude


The preschoolers that rode motor-powered dirt bikes near Discovery Bay, California, were a hardcore bunch. Furrowed brows. Bubble-shaped helmets. Padded jackets with high-top boots. But no kid dared to attempt a jump on the track — at least, not with their training wheels still on.

Except Ryder Helfrick.

Growing up a competitive dirt biker, Helfrick was known as a daredevil — a “balls-to-the-wall, hair-on-fire rider,” as his older brother, Leighton, put it.

He was fearless. That trait stuck as he ascended into baseball stardom later on, shaping the hyperaggressive approach that makes him so effective on the field.

“You have to have no fear when you ride bikes,” Helfrick said. “And that’s how I like to play baseball.”

Helfrick is 10 years removed from his dirt biking days, which he cut short at 9 years old to pursue his blossoming baseball career. He soon grew into one of the best catchers in California and committed to Arkansas, where he completed his freshman season in the spring.

Ryder Helfrick rides his dirt bike down the track. Helfrick learned to ride at age three, and he raced competitively from ages five to nine. Photo courtesy of Misty Helfrick.

He’s playing with the Whitecaps this summer, showcasing his full-throttle mentality against some of the best competition in college baseball. He’s off to a stellar start, ranking second in the Cape Cod Baseball League in RBI (20) and third in home runs (five), all while notching the 10th-most steals in the league with six — two more than the second-highest catcher.

“He’s an advanced hitter, beyond his years as a freshman,” Whitecaps manager Jamie Shevchik said. “Usually, freshmen struggle out here from the offensive standpoint. He’s not.”

Helfrick’s skill and potential are evident in Brewster. But in his first year with the Razorbacks, little seemed to be working. Helfrick described his season bluntly: “I sucked.” He batted .179 and struck out 28 times, platooning with a more experienced catcher.

After Arkansas’ elimination from the NCAA Tournament, Helfrick made his phone’s lock screen a screenshot of his Baseball Reference page, featuring his subpar stats as motivation. Even with his success on the Cape, the screensaver has not changed.

“It’s just a reminder that I sucked last year,” Helfrick said. “That’s not who I am.”

In Helfrick’s exit meeting, Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn encouraged him to stop overcomplicating things and “just simplify.” That advice, Helfrick said, has been key. He has shortened his stride at the plate, looking for pitches in the middle of the plate and “just hitting them.”

Playing every day has helped, too. Unlike at Arkansas, Helfrick has been a constant in Brewster’s lineup. Even when he isn’t catching, Helfrick has started at designated hitter since his bat is so effective. He even started at first base on one recent occasion.

“I think one of the reasons he struggled at Arkansas is because he was never able to get into a rhythm,” Shevchik said. “Now here, he’s playing every day. So he knows that no matter if he goes 0-for-4 or 4-for-4, he’s probably gonna get an opportunity the next day.”

Adopting a stress-free style of baseball has also made a difference. When Helfrick recently called Chaz Meadows, his youth baseball coach, he explained how nice it was to play in the Cape “without having pressure” compared to the stress he felt at school.

“There is pressure,” Meadows responded. “You’re just not putting it on yourself.”

But even if he isn’t imposing self-pressure, Helfrick is still hard on himself. His Baseball Reference screensaver is one example, but that side of his personality also comes through on the field.

In one recent game against the Harwich Mariners, Helfrick stepped to the plate with his team leading 8-3, already 2-for-3 with two RBI. He popped up to the third baseman, scowling before slamming his bat on the grass in disgust. It was a reaction fit for a batter striking out for the fourth consecutive time, not for someone who had already accounted for much of his team’s offense.

Ryder Helfrick catches a pitch in a June 30 game against the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. Photo credit: Avery Raimondo.

He’s always been that way. Growing up, Ryder and Leighton were known to rip the tabs off his batting gloves after poor performances. It got so out of hand that the brothers’ mother, Misty Helfrick, told them she wouldn’t buy them any new ones because they were going through them so quickly.

From the stands, Misty would record almost every at-bat Ryder and Leighton took growing up. Once his games ended, Ryder would always have the same demand: “Mom, let me see my swings.”

“He’s always watched and tried to find what he could improve on, what he could make better, what he could do differently,” Misty said. “That’s always been a part of him.”

Over time, those improvements have earned him two defining skills: power and speed.

He has been crushing the ball to left field, his pull side, capitalizing on hanging breaking balls for most of his home runs. He’s had a few near-misses, too — long fly balls that have had the distance but curled just foul.

But the unique aspect of Helfrick’s game is his quickness — a rare quality for a catcher. Helfrick is one of the best base runners on the Whitecaps, and he is particularly adept at stealing bases and executing dirt-ball reads.

It’s something he’s worked at over time. As a kid, Helfrick was always one of the slower players on his team, according to both Leighton and Meadows. The athleticism came later, when he grew into his body in early high school.

“He was never the most coordinated as a kid, but he never let that affect him. He always grinded away,” Leighton said.

As he became more naturally athletic in ninth and 10th grade, Ryder focused on speed training and plyometric jumping to develop the agility that helps him on the basepaths.

“He’s just turned himself into a really, really athletic player,” added Leighton, now an outfielder for UC Davis.

Shevchik has declared Helfrick worthy of a Cape League All-Star bid, and he has been the best catcher in the league in most statistical categories. He’ll be eligible for the MLB Draft in 2026, and he’s likely to be selected in the early rounds.

But beneath the pressures of high-level college baseball, Helfrick isn’t so different from the little kid who sped down dusty trails on a dirt bike.

And he’s still doing things the way he always has: balls to the wall.

Title photo credit: Avery Raimondo.