Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams once said that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports.
But when it comes time to get his lumber on a fastball screaming its way to home plate, Nick Rutckyj makes it look pretty routine.
“The feeling you have when you make solid contact, you know you have hit it well and it feels effortless,” he described.
But the way Rutckyji describes it, there is no secret to his sweet swing.
“Hard work and bust your (butt),” he said
The 16-year-old has had an impressive season with the Langley Jr. Blaze, who won the B.C. Junior Premier Baseball League title with an eye-popping 41-7 record (see page 29).
They head into this weekend’s league championships as the top seed out of the eight playoff squads.
And Rutckyj has played a big part in the team’s success, winning the triple crown, a rare feat.
He led the league with a .402 batting average, 38 RBIs and two home runs.
Winning the RBI title proved to the toughest of the three, as Rutckyj was neck-and-neck with a pair of his teammates for that title, finishing tied with Preston Kokatailo. Another Jr. Blaze batter, Tyler O’Neill, was right behind with 37.
But for all the success Rutckyj has on the field, it is well deserved and a product of his hard work.
“He is a blue collar guy,” said coach Eddie Dagg. “He works his butt off.”
Dagg raved about the work ethic of his clean-up hitter and third-baseman.
“He will do anything; you don’t have to tell him what to do,” the coach said.
Athletic and active growing up — he played soccer, hockey and volleyball as well, and he played the game with his twin sister, Madeline before she switched from baseball to softball — he decided five years ago to put his focus on the ball diamond.
That year, he won most valuable player honours at provincials and then in 2007, his team from White Rock made it all the way to Williamsport for the Little League World Series.
Ever since, he has been hooked on the game.
“Baseball caught my attention, I worked hard at it and I just love it,” he said.
This is his first year with the Blaze after two seasons of AAA baseball with Cloverdale.
Last year was tough on his as a hip flexor injury sidelined him for the bulk of the season. He admitted that watching from the sidelines was not a pleasant experience.
But fully healthy, Rutckyj has been making up for lost time by ripping opposing pitchers.
“I am a little bit surprised,” he admitted. “I didn’t think I would have this good a year in my first year of the league.”
Rutckyj, a straight-A student as well, likes the thinking aspect of the sport, whether it be what pitch is coming his way, or where an opposing player is likely to try and hit.
He also credits working with his dad for his success as father and son have spent countless hours at the park, working on the game.
“He puts in a lot of time and dedication to help me,” Rutckyj said. “Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“You don’t see many fathers at the ball park every day pitching and hitting ground balls to their son, but mine does.”
The extra work is simply a necessity to stay ahead.
“The game keeps changing and you can never learn or know too much,” Rutckyj said. “I like to work hard and bet the best in all I do, in school and in sports.”
The end goal is to get drafted by a Major League Baseball team and one day play pro ball, following in the footsteps of his cousin, Evan Rutckyj, a pitcher who was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2010 and now plays in their organization.
Garrett James/Langley Times