The Duncan Banner

July 22, 2012

It’s fun to be a fan again

Ed Darling
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Josh Rutledge has changed my leisure time habits at home the past couple of weeks. He has altered my schedule, adjusted my priorities and made me a baseball fan again.

The son of friends from Alabama, Rutledge is now the starting shortstop for the Colorado Rockies in the National League.

It’s likely a temporary opportunity since two-time All-Star and two-time Golden Glove defender Troy Tulowitzki is the regular Rockies’ starter when he’s healthy, but Rutledge is making the most of his assignment made possible by a groin injury that put Tulo on the 15-day disabled list and will probably keep him off the field even longer.

Rutledge was hitting .306 with 109 hits, 13 home runs and 35 RBI in 87 games for the Double-A Tulsa Drillers when he was called up July 13, ironically a day after our family vacation ended in Denver. He batted .348 in 406 at-bats last year, led the California League in hitting for Class A Modesto and he has been identified as one of the organization’s top 10 prospects.

Using Tulowitzki’s cleats and batting glove, D.J. LeMahieu’s bats and Jordan Pacheco’s glove because his equipment didn’t arrive in time for his first game, he got two hits and a sacrifice fly, walked once, drove in two runs and stole a base as the lowly Rockies, last in the West Division, beat Philadelphia 6-2 in his Coors Field debut.

He also got a welcoming and traditional shaving cream pie in his face during a post-game interview.

Through his first seven games in the majors, he’s hitting .375 with nine hits (four doubles and two triples), four RBI and three stolen bases. Defensively, he made his first error against San Diego Friday night, but he has handled 32 chances in 63 innings and been in on five double plays.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

He comes from a baseball family, the son of Tony, a family practice physician, and Cheryl, a nurse. He and his older brother, Michael, both played on high school state championship caliber teams at Cullman. Both were All-State selections and Michael played three years at SEC power Mississippi State before transferring to Samford of the Ohio Valley Conference for a graduate school year of eligibility.

Josh, now 23, earned All-SEC and All-American honors as a shortstop at Alabama before being drafted by the Rockies in the third round of the 2010 draft. And he appears part of the Colorado youth movement designed to regain a winning attitude and record.

Rutledge probably won’t replace Tulowitzki when he returns from injury, though the famous story of Lou Gehrig taking over for an injured Wally Pipp and remaining a starter for 2,130 consecutive games as a New York Yankee could always be repeated. It isn’t likely, of course, and Tulo is a solid pro both as a hitter and fielder. But Rutledge could earn significant playing time as a second baseman where the Rockies are a little weak.

If he keeps playing as well, he might even grab some national attention away from more heralded rookies Bryce Harper of Washington and Mike Trout of Los Angeles’ Angels.

All I know is, Rutledge is living the boyhood hero dream most of us had as youngsters and for today anyway, he’s one of 30 major league starting shortstops in the entire country.

And I, for the first time in decades, have become a baseball fan again.

Though I recognize the names of only a handful of players, I find myself often in front of our home computer, probing statistics as I “watch” the play-by-play of Rockies’ games and track each pitch thrown to Rutledge.

Following baseball, I have learned, has changed a lot since my earlier days of listening via KMOX out of St. Louis to the Cardinals late at night on my bulky red transistor radio, huddled under the covers of my bed for both parental secrecy and privacy.

It’s been fun reconnecting to the game and exciting to see him succeed. I hope his story gets even better.

Getting an autograph, then, may be the next step.

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