Posted at 1:33 PM on May 14, 2009
by Chris Dall
The St. Paul Saints open up the regular season tonight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where they'll take on the Sioux Falls Canaries. Taking the mound for the Saints is St. Olaf alumni Charlie Ruud, who enters his fifth, and maybe final season with the team.
Ruud, the ace of the Saints staff, is coming off a season in which he complied a 12-4 record with a 3.85 ERA and pitched in the American Association All-Star Game. Since joining the team in 2005 as an emergency starter, Ruud has become the Saints all-time leader in wins, complete games, and games started. He needs only 21 strikeouts to become the team leader in that category.
This may be Ruud's final season of professional baseball because he has a higher calling. In December, Ruud graduated from Luther Seminary in St. Paul with a Masters of Divinity degree, and in the fall he will begin working as an associate pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in Northfield.
I spoke with Ruud yesterday by phone, as he was working out with the team in preparation for tonight's game.
CD: Is this going to be your last year with the Saints, and how do you feel about that?
Ruud: I haven't made a definitive decision on that yet. I'm going to have a full time call to a church after the season, and I've got a little girl now, just two months old, so those circumstances come together to make it a little more difficult to play past this season. I'm kind of feeling bittersweet about that. If and when I'm done, if it's after this season, it will be nice to focus on my next career as a pastor, but I'll miss the professional aspect of baseball, being at the ball yard every day, around the guys, and traveling around the country.
CD: Tell me about how you got started with the team?
Ruud: I graduated from St. Olaf College in 2004 and was successful through college as a pitcher and was part of some good teams, and coming out of college I didn't want to quit playing and felt like I could play at the next level, or at least wanted to have a shot. So I sent my resume around to a bunch of teams, like the Saints, in 2004, and I didn't hear anything back. So I played with an amateur team that summer. Then the next year, I said I'm just going to give it a shot and go to an open tryout and see what happens. They liked what they saw from me and gave me a shot to play later in the season. It's certainly been a fun and crazy ride.
CD: Have you ever been approached by any major league clubs, and has that been one of your goals?
Ruud: I think for all of us in these independent professional leagues, such as the Saints play in, that's the goal for everybody. You want to try and get in to the next organization. Of course for me, I know a lot of the time I'm not what teams are looking for. I'm smaller in stature (than most pitchers), I don't throw all that hard, but I've had good success, so there is always a hope there. In 2006, the Padres expressed some interest and ended up taking another guy out of our league. And then at the end of the '07 season I was invited to a tryout with the Brewers. But I didn't perform very well and didn't hear back from them.
CD: What was that like?
Ruud: It was a cool experience. I got to go down to Phoenix, and went to the park, and to be around all these guys that were pitching and hitting and trying to be a part of that, it was just a fun experience learn what happens at that kind of event.
CD: What are your strengths as a pitcher?
Ruud: The main thing for me, locationwise, is that I'm able to spot my fastball pretty well, and I've got a good curve ball that keeps hitters off balance. Those have been my two best weapons, my location and my curveball. Along with that, I kind of go after hitters, I make them earn it, I don't like to walk guys. So if it's a 3-1 count or a 2-0 count, chances are they are going to get a strike, a decent pitch to hit. I'd rather have them earn it and put it in play than give them a free pass to first base.
CD: So on a 3-2 count, do you go to the fastball or the curve?
Ruud: That's been one of the things that has allowed me to keep a job in professional baseball. I remember my first game with the Saints, I was nervous but having a heck of a time, having a ball out there, and I kind of got into a jam in the later innings, probably like the 4th or 5th inning. We had bases loaded two outs with a 3-2 count. And I remember thinking on the mound If I throw a 3-2 curveball I know I can get this guy, but I wasn't sure if my catcher was going to be up for it. Sure enough, he put down the number two and I said 'let's do it,' and we got the guy and got out of the jam. So it's been something that I've utilized quite a bit throughout my career.
CD: Is baseball in this type of league more of a pure baseball experience, more about the game?
Ruud: It's certainly about the game. Guys in this league, you wouldn't be playing if you didn't really love it, because the pay isn't anything glamorous by any standards. That's something that's great about it. There's less focus on the money, and more focus on winning and doing well at the job you've been asked to do. Because the league is not so focused on developing players, because it's an independent league, there's more focus on trying to win a championship and working together as a team. And if guys get signed and picked up along the way, you say 'good for you, go do what you've been doing, and we're going to keep trying to win here.'
CD: How will you apply your experiences playing baseball into your work as a preacher?
Ruud: Being a pitcher for the Saints has given me an opportunity to meet lots of different people from all over the country and from all different walks of life, with different stories and different trials. So being immersed in that type of melting pot of stories has given me experiences that I wouldn't have gotten in other vocations that I could have pursued during my time in seminary. To be next to those kind of stories, to be engaged in different conversations with all different types of people has helped me to approach people where they are and given me a better viewpoint on the larger scheme of the world.
CD: Do you bring your faith into the clubhouse?
Ruud: Faith, hopefully, is something that doesn't leave you. I don't know if you can leave it at the doorstep when you come in. I'm not too forward with my faith, like reading the bible in the middle of the clubhouse, or posting bible verses on my locker, but guys know what I do during the offseason, and they know that it's important to me, and that offers a lot of cool questions and conversations, and even confessions. So that's a fun aspect for me, that I don;t leave my faith at the door, and that this other vocation is used and benefited by the time I spend around here.
CD: What will you take away from your experience with the Saints?
Ruud: I'm going to take away a lot of great relationships that I've built through this with teammates and coaches, and the experience of traveling the country in less than glamorous clubhouses and situations, and a ton of hilarious stories on the road and just things that happen in the day to day life of professional baseball. That is going to be priceless stuff, and a lot of great memories too.
CD: Are you excited about being the opening day starter for the Saints?
Ruud: I am. It's the first time I've been the opening day starter since I've been here, so I'm kind of nervous for it, but hopeful too. It's going to be fun.