FARGO — Ryan Flores was in sixth grade when he first started to feel sick. A couple years later, he was diagnosed with a pseudotumor cerebri, a "false brain tumor" that is usually caused by high pressure in the skull from fluid buildup.
In eighth grade, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks pitcher said he had a shunt put in his lower back to help relieve the vomiting, the dizziness and spinal headaches Flores had been experiencing due to the pseudotumor. A shunt is a small passage that’s made to allow blood or other fluid to move between one part of the body to another.
“My body thought it had a brain tumor, but it never did,” Flores said.
More than a decade later, it would be hard to tell that the 28-year-old Flores has had double-digit neurosurgeries, nearly 20 spinal taps and one Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow.
“He’s like this walking miracle,” said Haley Flores, Ryan’s wife. “Not a lot of people know his story.”
The 6-foot, 180-pound Flores has been one of the most reliable arms for the RedHawks this American Association baseball season. The right-hander has a 2-0 record with a 3.27 ERA with one save. He’s pitched 22 innings in 15 appearances, striking out 35 batters, while walking six.
F-M hosts the Chicago Dogs at 7:02 p.m. Wednesday, June 23, with a chance to sweep the three-game series with a victory. Flores has helped the RedHawks stay near the top of the North Division standings. Flores pitched for the RedHawks during last summer’s pandemic-shortened season and has become a mainstay this season.
“When we got him last year, his role was always kind of the rag doll, whenever you needed a guy,” RedHawks manager Chris Coste said. “And then there was one time last year where he had significant rest and he was a different guy, he was amazing. I realized immediately that if used the right way, he’s really, really good.”
Flores has had a remarkable journey to get to this point, fighting through multiple health setbacks, including a stroke during a neurosurgery around eight years ago. Soon after that, he had Tommy John surgery. Flores said those setbacks forced him out of baseball for a couple of years.
Flores said he got a call from a friend that landed him at Richland College, a junior college in Dallas, and got him back into the game. He played for Richland in 2015 and 2016. Flores started his professional career with the Sioux City Explorers in 2017 and has played in every American Association season since.
Flores said his Christian faith has helped him through the tough times. Less than two years ago, Flores was again feeling sick and again dealing with symptoms like lightheadedness, vomiting and spinal migraine headaches, Haley said.
"That was really hard to watch," Haley said.
Ryan had three more surgeries and ultimately had the shunt removed from his lower back.
“He’s been better ever since,” said Haley, who lives and works in Sioux Falls where the two have a home. “He’s healthy now. He’s performing great and it’s just really exciting watching him do what he loves to do.”
Ryan and Haley have a 1-year-old son, Maverick. Ryan said it can be difficult not being with his family during the season. Haley and Maverick help motivate him.
“I wish I could think about my son every minute,” Ryan said. “Before going into the game and just warming up, I like to take a moment to think about, ‘This is why I’m doing it.’ I’m far away from them, but this is why I’m doing it.”
Ryan uses FaceTime to help stay connected with his wife and son.
“I think it’s been an additional blessing to his story,” Haley said of Maverick. “I really think it added to Ryan’s personality. He loves being a dad."