Ex-Tide shortstop has major league experience, but not major league ego

Josh Rutledge speaks at a Cullman baseball camp.

Josh Rutledge speaks at a Cullman baseball camp.

Josh Rutledge posing for a photo with a young fan.

Josh Rutledge posing for a photo with a young fan.

CULLMAN – Josh Rutledge is 23 and a baseball hero in his hometown of Cullman, having played baseball for the Alabama Crimson Tide and making it to the major leagues. He is coming off an eye-catching rookie season with the Colorado Rockies.

And he is dating the reigning Miss Florida, Laura McKeeman, who will compete this month in the Miss America pagent.

But these days, Rutledge hardly seems eager to bask in the glow of all that. If he has much of an ego, he doesn’t appear to have time to listen to it.

As he prepares back home for spring training, his goals seem relatively modest: He just wants to make the team.

“I don’t have a job sealed up,” he said during a break Thursday at a holiday baseball camp at Cullman’s All Sports Performance Training. “I just want to win a job. If I don’t, that’s fine. I trust that if I put in the work, success will come.”

During a camp session in which he addressed about 75 children from age 6 to 14, he had two main messages, and they’re points he said he still follows:

Accept your failure because baseball players fail all the time, and have fun when you play.

Rutledge had a lot of fun this past baseball season. He started his third year in professional baseball as a shortstop with the Tulsa Drillers, a Class Double-A minor league franchise. After slugging 13 homers and batting .306 in 87 games, he got the call to go to Colorado.

It wasn’t a call he expected. His parents already were traveling to Little Rock, Ark., where Tulsa was set to play next. But in the third inning of his last game with the Drillers, he got pulled from the game.

“It was pretty crazy,” Rutledge said. “I was on first base and was going to second when I was forced out. When I went to the dugout, they told me, ‘You’re out.’ At first, I didn’t understand, but then I was told I was going to Denver.”

The Rockies’ All-Star shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, already was injured, but Tulowitzki’s fill-in was hurt, too.

He arrived in Denver at about 2:30 a.m., but his baseball equipment didn’t make it along with him. It wasn’t there the next day when he was set to go to the stadium, either. And he was in the lineup.

Tulowitzki loaned him batting gloves and cleats. Fellow infielder Jordan Pacheco let him borrow a glove. Second baseman D.J. LeMahieu had some bats Rutledge could use.

In his debut, Colorado faced Philadelphia and left-handed pitching ace Cliff Lee, a former Cy Young Award winner. Rutledge went 2-for-2 with a double, a walk and a sacrifice fly.

The double came on his first at-bat, and just as he made it to second base, Phillies All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins offered a quick congratulations.

In 73 games with Colorado, Rutledge hit .274 with eight homers and 37 RBIs.

“The year before, I had a slow start but I finished strong, and that gave me some confidence as I went into last season,” Rutledge said. “I continued to work hard. I started in Double-A, but I ended up getting up to the big leagues.”

As the season went along, he had to remind himself that he was a major leaguer. Each time the Rockies visited a new park, Rutledge would take time to look up and around at the place.

“It was awesome and kind of surreal,” he said.

He said it helped that he played at Alabama and faced SEC competition for three years, before Colorado took him in the 2010 draft.

“There’s good competition in the SEC,” Rutledge said.

Alabama has another Cullman grad on its roster in sophomore Ben Moore, an outfielder and catcher. Collegiate Baseball chose Moore as a freshman All-American last season. Moore lists Rutledge as one of his idols.

When Rutledge was a senior at Cullman, Moore was an eighth-grader.

“I would watch him practice,” Moore said. “It was obvious he was a special talent. I always liked the way he carried himself in the locker room and around.

“He took care to be good to the young players. He wasn’t too good to help us. He always hustled and worked hard, and I try to be that way, too.”

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