Growing up in a small town, most athletes can only dream of one day reaching the pinnacle that is professional sports.
For Josh Rutledge, however, his dreams became a reality as the former Cullman High baseball star vaulted up the minor-league ranks and made his major-debut in grand fashion for the Colorado Rockies on July 14.
Starting in place of injured shortstop Troy Tulowitski, Rutledge made his presence known immediately, doubling off former Cy Young-winner Cliff Lee in his first at-bat.
Although his own equipment didn’t arrive until after the game, Rutledge was able to get by using Tulo’s cleats and batting gloves, as well as other teammates’ bats and gloves.
The rookie ended his night a perfect 2-for-2 with two RBIs and a walk and ended his season batting .274 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs. He set a Rockie rookie record in August by hitting a round-tripper in four straight games.
Rutledge reflected on the experience with a quiet confidence.
“You know, I always thought I had the ability and the work ethic to make it this far,” Rutledge told The Times in November. “But, it was just so surreal when it actually happened. When it all hit me, it was pretty cool.”
The former Bearcat and Crimson Tide standout will be competing for a second-baseman job in spring training.
“I’m just working as hard as I can in the offseason,” he added. “I’m looking forward to getting back out there and competing for a starting role.”
Joining Rutledge’s success on the diamond are former Cullman players Ben Moore, Matthew Britton, Caleb Clay and Chase Mallard.
Ben Moore, a 2011 Cullman graduate, has also found wild success on the baseball field with Alabama.
The Tide outfielder/catcher was named to the Southeasterm Conference All-Freshman Team back in May.
He compiled a .342 batting average, second on the team, while collecting 68 hits on the year.
Moore set plenty of school records during his time at Cullman and came in second place for SEC Freshman of the Year. He was named the Northwoods League MVP after a record-breaking summer with the Alexandria (Minn.) Beatles.
The Cullman native said he won’t put too much pressure on himself to build on his freshman season.
“I’m going to go out there and do what I’ve always done — just play baseball and let the rest take care of itself,” he said.
Britton, Moore’s former teammate, made the most of his first season at Mississippi State, landing on SportsCenter’s top-10 plays for a sick double play and playing the hero with a 10th-inning, walk-off single to upset top-seeded LSU during the SEC Tournament.
The Bulldogs went on to win their seventh conference tournament title.
Clay spent his last two seasons with the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox and posted a 4.61 ERA while striking out 61 batters in 66.1 innings.
As a free agent, Clay recently signed with the Washington Nationals, where he will be stretched out as a start at Triple-A Syracuse.
Clay said he hoped to join Rutledge in the near future but added he has some work to do before getting there.
“I feel like I consistently need to be at my best,” he said. “I know it’s really hard to do at this level, but if I keep getting experience and getting reps, I think I’m going to be OK.”
Mallard, a 2010 Bearcat graduate, played a huge role in UAB securing its first-ever Conference USA championship. Generally utilized as a middle reliever, the sophomore made an emergency start following a last-minute injury to the team’s scheduled starter, striking out four and allowing just five hits in a career-long outing.
Mallard earned a spot on the C-USA All-Tournament Team for that gutsy performance.
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 258 or at email@example.com.