Rock Rucker finds a home at Russell County

Batting .383with seven homers, 40 RBIs

May 2, 2012 

SEALE, Ala. -- The first time Tony Rasmus ever heard about Rock Rucker, he thought somebody was pulling his leg.

A text came through at 7:30 a.m. from Rucker, introducing himself and reeling off a line of baseball skills -- 6-5, 230 pounds, a left-handed pitcher/outfielder who runs a 6.5 60 and throws in the low 90s -- that sounded too good to be true.

"I was like, dude, it takes a lot to get me to giggle and laugh this early in the morning, but you got me," Rasmus said. "I thought somebody was playing a prank on me."

Rucker wasn't pulling any pranks.

His father Orrin, is a financial broker, a job that has kept the Rucker family on the move. The Ruckers have lived in New York, New Jersey, London, Georgia, Florida and now Alabama.

Moving around made it tough to keep pulling Rucker and his three older sisters out of school all the time, and the close-knit family started home schooling after an attempt at boarding school left the kids feeling like they were too far apart.

"We're very close," Darcey, Rock's mother, said. "Home schooling was a way for us to still be that close, and to get an education."

Home-schooled up until the eighth grade, Rucker, a prodigious baseball talent, had played at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in the Atlanta area until his dad lost his job at Morgan Stanley after his sophomore year.

Unable to keep their son in private school, the Rucker started looking for other options.

Orrin found work in Tampa, Fla., with Raymond James, but Rucker was used to playing in Georgia. He played with MVP in Major League Baseball's breakthrough series and finally settled at Redan High School, where he played as a junior.

Concerned about his safety, his parent's plan was to home-school him during the fall, then enroll him to play baseball in the spring, a plan that worked fine in his first year at Redan.

"It is a high-risk area, they have crime and shootings," his mother said. "We only wanted to keep him in school when it was necessary."

Rucker pulled out of Redan last fall to go back to home schooling, the idea being that he would re-enroll in the spring to play baseball.

At the time, the Ruckers didn't know that playing that way was not an option. In Georgia, once a kid enrolls at a school district, he must stay enrolled continuously to preserve athletic

eligibility.

All of a sudden, Rucker, a highly-prized recruit who had already committed and signed with Auburn, had to find a place to play.

"A buddy of mine told me to come down to the County, because it had a good reputation of being a powerhouse and a bunch of good coaches," Rucker said.

That first text to Rasmus may have seemed like a prank, but Rucker made it clear that he was serious about playing at Russell County. Three school days after he first contacted the coach, Rucker started taking classes.

"When I first got here, I was nervous," Rucker said. "I just tried to fit in, and they welcomed me with open arms. They treat me like I've been here for four years."

Rasmus figured out quickly that Rucker had an enormous amount of untapped potential.

He'd already played a lot of high-level baseball on traveling teams and in the MVP program, but he had never trained physically.

A naturally big kid with incredible athleticism, Rucker had never lifted weights. He'd never played long toss, a drill that builds arm strength.

Under Russell County's supervision, Rucker's natural athleticism began to explode.

"The first time I pitched here, I only threw 87 (mph)," Rucker said.

"Then he got me in the gym, and I went from 87 to 91 to 94. I gradually got better when I started lifting."

A key player for Russell County this season, Rucker has hit .383 with seven home runs, 13 doubles and 40 RBIs, and he's probably been even better as a pitcher. In eight appearances, Rucker is 7-0 with a 0.41 ERA, and he's got 66 strikeouts in just 34 innings pitched.

He's allowed only seven hits in the 148 batters he's faced. If it weren't for a wild streak (36 walks), Rucker, Rasmus has said, would probably be his No. 1 or No. 2 playoff starter, spots currently held down by Ray Castillo and Jesse Nelson, a pair of stars in their own right.

"If we went to a third game, he'd be my starter," Rasmus said. "He's got dominant stuff. When we play inter-squad, we can't even touch him, and we've got a pretty good hitting team."

Three weeks ago, Rasmus noticed Rucker squinting at the computer in his office. The coach asked him if he wore contacts, and he hadn't gotten any yet. On Monday, Rucker finally got fitted for contacts.

A world of possibility may have just opened up. When he arrives at Auburn in the summer, the baseball coaches plan to use him as both an outfielder and a pitcher.

"I'm anxious now to see him at the plate," Rasmus said. "He's been hitting .370, .380 for us, but he's got the potential that Colby (Rasmus, an outfielder for the Blue Jays) had when he was here, to hit .500, .600 and be crazy good."

BASEBALL SCHEDULE

All series best-of-3

AHSAA QUARTERFINALS

Friday

Class 6A

Central at Enterprise (DH), 5:30 p.m.

Class 5A

Russell County at Spanish Fort (DH), 5 p.m.

Saturday

Class 6A

Central at Enterprise (if game), 2 p.m.

Class 5A

Russell County at Spanish Fort (if game), 2 p.m.

AISA CLASS AAA SEMIFINALS

Wednesday

Glenwood at Pike Liberal (n)

Today

Glenwood at Pike Liberal (if game), 5 p.m.

GHSA FIRST ROUND

Friday

Class AAA

Arabia Mountain at Columbus (DH), 2 p.m.

Class A

Metter at Brookstone (DH), 2 p.m.

Class AAAA

Mt. Zion at Harris County (DH), 5 p.m.

Saturday

Class AAA

Arabia Mountain at Columbus (if game), 2 p.m.

Class A

Metter at Brookstone (if game), 2 p.m.

Class AAAA

Mt. Zion at Harris County (if game), 2 p.m.

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