Making a Name
With baseball season just under one month away, the Big Red, led by an experienced group of seniors, are aiming to improve on its win total from last spring. Posting an Ivy League record of 7-13, the team knows that it underperformed, but realizes that its potential is limitless in the 2017 season. The squad was led by breakout star Cole Rutherford, who hit six home runs and posted an OPS of .871 while taking home two Ivy League Player of the Week honors. As he enters the season as a fifth-year senior, Rutherford will be relied on, once again, as a key contributor on both offense and defense for the Big Red.
Coming from high school, Rutherford received just one Division I baseball offer from Eastern Michigan. However, citing his passion for academics, Rutherford ultimately declined and chose to attend Orange Coast College in Orange County, California. While there, Rutherford helped his team win state championships in two seasons with the Pirates. He cited many similarities between the program and Cornell, as both teams clearly prioritize winning and competition. Like Rutherford, 14 other Orange Coast teammates now play Division I baseball, so playing with and against top talent was nothing new, as he joined the Big Red.
After three years at Orange Coast College, Rutherford received offers from Cornell, Loyola Marymount University, and the University of San Francisco. Once again, it was the academics and team chemistry that led him to Ithaca, New York.
“The Cornell degree and prestige of the university itself spoke volumes,” Rutherford said. “I love the guys, the big school feel, and the facilities.”
Looking back on his first season at Cornell, Rutherford admitted that he didn’t know exactly how he would fit in with the program, but he credits his coaches and teammates for welcoming him with open arms from the beginning.
Rutherford spent last offseason playing for the Walla Walla Sweets, an amateur team located in Walla Walla, Washington that competes in the West Coast League. This summer league hosts some of the most talented hitters and pitchers in all of college baseball, and unlike the NCAA, requires wooden bats. Rutherford hit .243 with one home run and five RBIs in 24 games for the Sweets.
After this short stint, Rutherford underwent surgery on his left ankle, which he dislocated while at Orange Coast in March of 2015. His rehab comprised of working out with his brother, Blake, who was selected with the 18th overall pick by the New York Yankees in the 2016 MLB Draft. Rutherford also credits his rehab and training to Proactive Sports Performance, an offseason training program used by pros in all four major sports leagues.
As a player, he admittedly doesn’t try to model his game on any specific athlete, but as a Yankees fan, he loves the way Derek Jeter carried himself both on and off the field. Additionally, as a first baseman, Rutherford looks up to the recently retired Mark Teixeira. He was a tremendous contact and power hitter in his prime who provided the Yankees with superior defense at first base.
“I think defense is one of the most underrated parts of the game for first basemen. There’s picking balls in the dirt, fielding grounders, and throwing. Just because there’s a ground ball hit in the infield doesn’t mean it’s an automatic out,” Rutherford explained.
He saw plenty of heart and talent on Cornell’s roster last year and stated that the team made tremendous progress toward strengthening the program. This year, he believes an Ivy League title is a real possibility.
“I love the way Coach Pep pushes us,” Rutherford added. “We have great senior leadership in Paul [Balestrieri], Frankie [Padulo], and Tommy [Wagner]. They’re all great veterans who have been here for a long time.”
As his collegiate career comes to a close, Rutherford hopes to get drafted.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play professional baseball since I was six years old,” he described.
Whether it’s in the late rounds of the draft or as a free agent, Rutherford is looking for any opportunity. Luckily, the Ivy League saw nine players get drafted last year, including former Cornell pitcher Brian McAfee. Additionally, former Dartmouth star Kyle Hendricks finished third in National League Cy Young voting and led the Cubs to a World Series title. There is certainly potential for Rutherford to make a name for himself as not only one of the best hitters in the Ivy League for the 2017 season, but also on Major League big boards.