Former Comet captures dream, big league destiny

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Former Comet captures dream, big league destiny

Former Comet shortstop Jamal Rutledge was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 28th round of the MLB amateur draft.

Former Comet shortstop Jamal Rutledge was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 28th round of the MLB amateur draft.

Christian Urrutia / The Advocate

Former Comet shortstop Jamal Rutledge was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 28th round of the MLB amateur draft.

Christian Urrutia / The Advocate

Christian Urrutia / The Advocate

Former Comet shortstop Jamal Rutledge was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 28th round of the MLB amateur draft.

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

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It is the dream of every college athlete to sit with family on draft night, waiting in anticipation to hear his name called as a selection to a professional team. 

For former Comet shortstop Jamal Rutledge that dream has become a reality.

“I’ve wanted to get the opportunity to play professional ball since I was 3 years old,” Rutledge said. “When I got the call I was sitting with my mother. We both teared up. It was so special. It didn’t feel real.”

The 20-year-old was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 28th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball amateur draft in June and has already been designated for assignment with the team’s Arizona Rookie League squad.

Keeping in touch with Rutledge is tough for friends and family who the 6-foot-2-inch shortstop left behind in the Bay Area as the rigor of professional baseball leaves little time to socialize. The lion’s share of his days are spent dealing with the business of baseball.

Rutledge reaches the park at about 2 p.m. for team workouts and batting practice. At 3:30 p.m. there is a team lunch followed by near daily games beginning at 7 p.m. or occasionally at 9 p.m.

Most nights, the Richmond native is not back at home until midnight.

“There were a lot of things I had to adjust to but the biggest thing was the heat,” Rutledge said. “The first day I stepped on the field here (in Arizona) it was 124 degrees. I almost passed out.”

Rutledge credits second-year coach Brian Guinn as contributing largely to his success, saying he showed love beyond coaching and treated the team like they were his kids.

“Jamal (Rutledge) just needs to be consistent,” Guinn said of his former shortstop. “He has the ability. He just needs to remain focused and confident in what he can do.”

This past Comet season, just the act of focusing became tough after two of Rutledge’s family members were killed in a shooting.

“I sat out for a couple of days but I didn’t let many people know what was going on,” Rutledge said. “I didn’t want to be the guy walking around with a long face and everyone asking me what’s wrong, so I mostly would confide in Bear.”

Bear (Elijah Smith), Rutledge’s Comet teammate and lifelong friend, helped him deal with the tragedy and now sees the shortstop’s perseverance through the pain as an inspiration for the upcoming Comet season.

“I think Jamal (Rutledge) being drafted is a blessing and a great opportunity that pushes me to work harder,” Smith said. “We’ve known each other since we were 3-year-olds, so I believe with that same will and hope I can get to where I want to go.”

Returning to the field last season was difficult for Rutledge, but with such a deep love for the game he continued to chase his dream with a renewed outlook.

“They would have wanted me to endure so I didn’t give up,” Rutledge said. “I feel like I’m playing for them. It makes me go harder.”

Talent was never the issue for Rutledge and despite not having as explosive of a freshman season with the Comets as he would have wanted, professional baseball scouts regularly attended games to see the shortstop play.

In October, before the CCC baseball season began, Rutledge met with a scout who told him to remain healthy and good things would be in his future.

Indeed, the future was fruitful for Rutledge. Upon signing he received $50,000 along with an additional $50,000 to continue his education.

“The goal is to make it to Cleveland (the major league team),” Rutledge said. “On this level everyone is good, so it’s important to never worry about someone else’s game, just what you can do because you only have control of yourself.”

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