Most high school pitchers simply try to overpower batters, relying on a quality fastball en route to a strikeout.
Mike Rucker’s approach is a little bit different.
Sure, the Auburn Riverside senior packs a punch – the right-hander possesses a low-90s fastball – but he’s calculating, cerebral.
“I’ve always been a mathematical and analytical thinker,” said Rucker, a Class 4A all-state selection last year. “I guess it just carried over to baseball.”
If you could peer inside Rucker’s head before he throws a pitch, his thoughts might resemble some type of mathematical equation – and not the simple kind, more like something out of “Good Will Hunting,” where an elaborate problem occupies an entire chalkboard.
Every angle is taken into consideration.
“I’m always looking to get the edge on a batter. I’m only 6-foot tall. There’s only so much I can do physically,” Rucker said. “I think I know my limitations and because of that I’m always looking for different ways to get at a batter.”
Rucker dissects every aspect of the game, every nuance. And whatever the equation he’s wrestling with internally, the final answer usually results in doom for the batter.
Last year Rucker posted an 8-2 record with a 1.17 earned-run average and 63 strikeouts, while helping the Ravens to the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
It marked the second time in school history and the first since 1999 Auburn Riverside had advanced to the state tournament.
Rucker is determined to improve on last year’s successful season.
“I was joking around with him during one of our first practices and told him it was OK to smile, and he said ‘I don’t smile when I’m out here.’ That’s just the type of competitor he is,” said first-year Auburn Riverside coach Jon Aarstad, who takes over the program two years after guiding Kentwood to the state championship. “He’s all business when he steps on that field.”
And in the classroom.
Rucker has a 3.95 grade-point average and participates in the Running Start program at Green River Community College. He has already signed a national letter of intent to attend Gonzaga on a baseball scholarship this fall.
What was so appealing about the Bulldogs program that made Rucker select Gonzaga over Seattle University and Brigham Young?
“Academics were first and foremost, and Gonzaga has one of the best mechanical engineering programs in the country,” Rucker said. “That was the big draw for me. Plus it’s close enough to home so I can see my family and friends, but far enough away that it allows me to be independent. It was just a good fit for me.”
Before college, however, Rucker is focused on helping the Ravens go on another state playoff run.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Rucker said. “We accomplished a lot last season. We just want to continue to improve on what we did.”