If you were watching the Angel game last Tuesday and saw this guy subbing for CJ Wilson at the last minute who then proceeded to no-hit the Colorado Rockies regulars for four straight innings like they were a bunch of defenseless blades of grass stretching up for the sun only to be cut down by an arsenal of 94 mph four-seam fastballs with zigzag movement, change-ups that nibbled on the corners, and splitters that appeared to be thigh high fastballs but dove to the ground just as the batters committed to their swings, you might have asked yourself, “Who is that guy?”
Well, I’ll tell you. That, was Drew Rucinski.
If you’ve never heard of him, I wouldn’t blame you. The major league scouting cadre that watched him pitch from 2008 to 2011 for Ohio State University were so unimpressed that Drew went undrafted at the conclusion of his four-year collegiate career. He didn’t have a bad season his senior year — he went 5-3 with a 2.95 ERA, but he had a disastrous junior year posting a 5.45 ERA as he spent the season fighting a horribly split nail on the middle finger of his throwing hand. Before that, he spent his first two seasons as a Buckeye as a reliever, although he did lead the Big Ten in wins his sophomore year with 12, all of which came in relief.
Anyway, since the invitation to pitch in low minors for a major league team never showed up in the mail, the 22-year-old Rucinski believed in himself enough to commit to plan B — join the Rockford (Illinois) Riverhawks, one of the 12-teams that comprise the independent Frontier League. His mantra was to just play as hard as he could and wait for an opportunity to show up. In June, his first one did, sort of, as the Cleveland Indians signed him as a free agent, but looking at it now, it seems like the Indians just wanted him to be an organizational guy, someone clubs hire to fill up roster space so there would be enough guys for the actual prospects to have a team to play on. Drew spent the remainder of that season bouncing around the bottom of the Indians’ minor league system, playing short stints for three different clubs as the year played out.
In March of 2012 Drew was invited to Cleveland’s minor league camp, but he was quickly released. So as the new baseball season was about to begin, Rucinski found himself back to square one, as he hooked up once again with the Rockford Riverhawks, refusing to let his baseball dream die. His belief in his ability was not unfounded, however, as he started 15 games that season and had a nice 3.13 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and a 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings to show for it. Unfortunately, the opportunity to climb back on with a major league franchise never came knocking, so when the calendar reset in 2013, Drew decided to play once more for Rockford, this time as a 24-year-old independent league player hoping that some scout would finally see something in him, before he became too old to be a noticeable commodity.