By Lisa Daffy
Baseball may be a team sport, but when Colin Ruddy is facing down a batter from the pitcher’s mound, he is laser-focused on a singular opponent.
“I like the fight, the one-on-one battle with the guy at the plate,” said Ruddy, a junior at East Hampton High School who has been playing varsity since eighth grade. “There’s so much more to pitching than just throwing the ball. It’s like that famous Yogi Berra quote — ‘Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.’”
Ruddy’s attitude and work ethic have propelled him onto the A-list of high school players, not just on Long Island but nationally. In July, he was named to the All Tournament team in tournaments he played in Georgia and Florida with his travel team, the East Coast Lumberjacks.
In late July, Matt Hyde, Northeast area scout for the New York Yankees and manager of the Northeast Area Code Team, contacted Mike Megale, a former pro player and the founder of Pride9, a baseball instruction service, who has been working with Ruddy for seven years.
Hyde was looking for a pitcher to participate in the Area Code Underclass tournament, a three-day Atlanta showcase of the top 150 underclass baseball players from across the country, which ran August 8-10.
“Colin was the first who came to mind,” said Megale.
In fact, Megale was on the phone with Ruddy when the coach said he had another call coming in. “We were talking about my fitness, about what I was doing in the gym, and he’s like, ‘Oh, Matt Hyde is calling me from the Yankees. I think he’s calling about you,’” said Ruddy. “I thought he was joking. Then he calls back 10 minutes later and tells me they want me to come to Area Code. It was unreal.”
“Colin has good size and projection, which both make him stand out as a potential prospect,” said Hyde. “Additionally, his coaches spoke highly of his work ethic, his determination and his competitiveness, which are all the intangibles that we see in players who are going to be successful.”
Toward that success, Ruddy has been building both the physical and mental side of his game for more than a decade, starting when he joined his brother Owen’s Little League team and began competing with kids two years older than he was. The coach was their father, Mike Ruddy, who said despite the age gap, Colin was well-equipped for the challenge. “Owen and Colin always played together, and Colin always played with Owen’s friends, so he’s been ‘playing up’ all his life.”
“I felt like I needed to practice twice as hard just to be able to keep up with them,” said Ruddy. “As I got older, I got hungrier and hungrier to keep playing and to be the best.”
Ruddy maintains a year-round training regimen. “Even in the winter, I’ll wake up early and go to the gym before school, go home right after school and do my homework, then play in the gym two or three hours a night,” he said. “During the summer, it’s nonstop, the whole day.”
“From the first day I met him, he’s proven himself by how he conducts his business on the field, by how much he loves the game,” Megale said. “All Colin wants to do is be the best baseball player he can be, mentally and physically, and because of his work ethic and skill, he will continue to get better.”
Even with his drive, skill and preparation, the Area Code tournament did not get off to a good start for him. “I pitched the first inning, and two kids hit home runs off of me, but then I struck out three other kids. One of the kids who hit a home run is the number two-ranked kid in the country. Then I struck out the number three-ranked kid in the country.”
Asked if the home runs rattled him, especially since one was hit off his very first pitch, Ruddy said it didn’t. “It just motivates me to beat the next guy,” he said. “That’s the way I think of it. If it’s in the past, there’s nothing you can do about it, you just get him the next time.”
That ability to stay calm in the eye of the storm has marked Ruddy’s growth as a baseball player as much as his skill in the game.
“He has the best attitude, he’s a great leader, and he has a work ethic that is unbelievable,” said Vinny Alversa, East Hampton’s baseball coach. “Watching him on the mound, if things aren’t going his way, you’ll never know it. His facial expression won’t change. That’s one of the things I noticed about him, even as an eighth-grader. Ninety percent of kids in that position will have a meltdown — you’ll see them make a face, or shrug their shoulders. You will never catch a peep from him. As a hitter, if you’re not rattling the pitcher, that’s really difficult. And with Colin, you never know what he’s thinking.”
Unlike many of his peers, Ruddy doesn’t come from a baseball family. His father, Mike Ruddy, immigrated from Ireland in 1984 and got to know the game through a Mets-loving co-worker who took him to Shea Stadium. He got hooked, and years later brought his children into Little League.
“When Colin was 9, after the Little League season ended, he told me he wanted to play more baseball, so I told him I would find a way,” said Mike Ruddy. “That’s what got us hooked up with Baseball Heaven in Yaphank. He played there for four years, then a couple of years ago he got recruited by the East Coast Lumberjacks,” a travel squad that plays up and down the East Coast.
While Mike Ruddy, who owns Ruddy & Sons Masonry in East Hampton, made it his mission to help Colin pursue his baseball dreams, the younger Ruddy credits his father with an even more important key to his success. “What I get from my Dad is the way he came to the U.S. by himself, with no one in his family here to support him. He was on his own, making his own path to success. I look at that, and see the hard work he did, and the sacrifices he took to get where he is and to be as successful as he is. That’s how I look at it with baseball. I want to pave my own path and be successful.”
Of course, physical skill is, as Berra said, “the other half” of the equation, and Ruddy seems to have that in surplus as well. His fastball averages over 80 mph, and tops out at 83. “He knows how to pitch,” said Alversa. “It’s an art. His strength is being able to locate the ball, to pick his spot. He’s got a great fastball, a great change-up and a great curve.”
Despite his focus on baseball, Ruddy says schoolwork takes top priority, with him piling up AP classes and maintaining a 96.5 percent GPA. “When I was younger, my parents made me prioritize school, so my thing is, baseball’s not worth it if you’re not taking care of the other things,” he said.
Though he has two more years of high school to go, Ruddy is already looking ahead. “I really want to play at Boston College, and then I want to make it to the major league. I’d love to play for the Yankees someday.”
He also understands that a career in baseball is a longshot, with many hurdles to cross between now and then. He plans to study biology or kinesiology, hoping to become a physical therapist — a career that could keep him in the sports world even if his baseball dreams don’t come to pass.
His mentors agree that his mindset is key to his success.
“Though he had to face some highly talented hitters at the Underclass Area Code Games,” noted Hyde, “what impressed me was that Colin never gave in, he kept pitching. That ability to keep going during adversity will help him down the road.”
“Colin’s right there with the best of the best,” said Megale. “He’s a tremendous kid, a hungry athlete who comes from a great family. There are no guarantees. A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time. But I feel like with the route Colin is taking, he is going to create an opportunity to be ready whenever that call comes.”