Neville High center fielder Zeb Ruddell believed he had it all figured out, committing to another in-state school during the summer prior to his sophomore season.
However, he also something still missing. So, when the state’s No. 2-ranked prospect in the Class of 2022 opted to reopen his recruiting process, Ruddell found exactly what he was seeking.
A terrific performance in a showcase event in Lake Charles in May steered take Ruddell’s recruiting process in an entirely different direction — LSU.
“There’s nowhere else I want to play,” said the 6-foot 1, 195-pound Ruddell, who received an offer and committed to LSU over Texas Tech on June 26. “After the first go-around I took my time, did my research on everything about the schools. I really wanted to make sure I got everything right this time, ask certain questions. I feel good that I’ll be at LSU in two years.”
Ruddell’s story is familiar for aspiring baseball players raised in Louisiana.
By the time he was six years old, he began attending games at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium with visions of one day playing for the Tigers.
The left-handed hitting Ruddell recalled wearing purple and gold around his Monroe home where his room had a distinct purple and gold hue.
“I grew up around it,” he said. “If I wasn’t going to the games, I watched others on TV. Going to the Box, the atmosphere’s ridiculous. There’s no other college in the country to play than at Alex Box.
“The fans are unreal, you can feel that when you walk in and there’s all of this energy. The passion the people have for the game and the passion the players and coaches have for the game as well. It really makes you want to play there.”
Ruddell is content to wait another two years. He has some unexpected adversity to overcome.
Two months removed from his performance at the showcase where he wowed with a 6.466 60-yard dash time, coupled with a series of baseballs that had 100-miles-per-hour exit velocity over the fence, Ruddell is on the mend.
Two weeks ago, he underwent Tommy John surgery for an injury he suffered while pitching for his summer travel team the 16U Louisiana Knights Black, which found themselves low on pitching options in a recent tournament.
Ruddell said he experienced discomfort less than 20 pitches into his outing when he felt a ‘pop’ in his elbow.
After icing his arm that evening, he returned to hit and play in the outfield the next day. On a throw from right field, he felt the same unmistakable sensation in his arm.
“My whole elbow went numb, my fingers started tingling,” Ruddell said.
Tommy John surgery is named for former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, who was the first to successfully have the surgery in 1974 that reconstructs the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow.
Ruddell expects to resume hitting and playing center field at Neville next season but won’t pitch for the next 12-18 months to make a full recovery from surgery.
After a freshman season in 2019 which he started in right field, Ruddell shifted to center field in 2020. He batted .370 with a .629 slugging percentage and had a homer, four doubles and nine RBI when the remainder of Neville’s season was cancelled in mid-March after nine games by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ruddell, who had rescinded his commitment to Louisiana-Lafayette in January, managed to remain sharp during the COVID-19 health scare by taking advantage of access to a local gym. He also took batting practice and faced live pitching at an off-campus batting cage.
With the Future Star Series Showcase clearly in his crosshairs, Ruddell went out and performed admirably, considering it had been almost two months since his high school season had ended.
“I made sure I was ready,” he said. “They gave us a time they were moving it to. I just made sure to be ready and it worked out really well.”
Once news of Ruddell’s highlights on the base paths and at the plate reached social media, courtesy of Future Star Series’ Twitter account, Ruddell’s recruiting process went into orbit.
Jack Cressend, president of Louisiana Knights Baseball and scout for the L.A. Dodgers, established a list of college coaches interested in talking to Ruddell, a number which totaled seven the day after his memorable performance.
LSU was represented in that group and two days after their initial phone conversation, the Tigers made their move with Ruddell. They offered a scholarship which set into motion a chain of events which included a commitment three weeks later.
“I was just shocked after the offer,” said Ruddell, a projected center fielder at LSU. “I really didn’t believe it for a second, laying in my bed in awe. I knew when they offered it was going to be really hard for me not to go there. It’s always been my dream since I was a little kid and going to watch LSU, that put it over to commit to the Tigers.”