Archive for May 1st, 2009

Bus Leagues Interview: Paul Rutgers

(During one of my random visits to Twitter a couple of weeks ago, Darren Heitner of The Sports Agent Blog mentioned that some of his minor league clients were playing well for their respective teams.  I sent Darren a quick message to see who he was representing, he directed me to his agency’s Web site, and I gave it a look.

One of the guys who stood out was Paul Rutgers, an Australian who looked to have a lot of experience in international competition and has spent several years in United States independent leagues.  He seemed like an interesting guy, so I asked to speak to him, and after a few emails, we had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes earlier this week.)

Bus Leagues: The first thing I wanted to ask was when Bryan [Swalley, Paul’s agent] emailed me to confirm that I could talk to you, he included a link to a YouTube video, and in it he put the notation that, “This IS Paul Rutgers, the dancing outfielder.”  [Rutgers laughs].  So I watched it, and I was impressed with the moves, but the team was pretty far behind at that point, and I know one of the announcers kind of dryly said, “His team is eleven runs behind.”  So I was wondering what started that and what kind of reaction did you see from that, if any?

paulrutgersPaul Rutgers: ‘Cause, there was always the left field fans, there was a group of them, I think it was the first day we took BP, and I was sitting out there with a couple of them, and then they came the next day, and they were like, singing songs all through the game and then they would sing songs and I would dance to them and stuff every inning and then the last game we were playing Mexico, every inning they were singing songs and I was out there and they kept calling my name and stuff and then, yeah, it was a pitching change and I was standing in center field and they started doing some Latino type thing with clapping and stuff and I would dance a little bit and they got the rightfielder to do something and then I started dancing again and the music came on over the speakers and I started just dancing.  I thought it was just left field that was watching and then the clap started moving all around the stadium.  It was just funny.

BL: So really it was just kinda like, “Hey, what the heck, let’s have a good time.”

PR: Yeah.

BL: You know, “We’re out here, we’re playing baseball, what could be better?”

PR: Yeah.  I’m usually like that in left field anyway, like even when we had practice games we played the Angels, and there were guys sitting out there in the grass area and they were trying to give me crap and by the end of the game they came over to the dugout and said they loved to see me play and watching the game and when were we playing next.  So it was a bit different from the start of the game to the end of the game.

BL: So it sounds like you’re kind of the perfect type of player for the independent leagues because it’ so focused on fan interaction and building relationships with the fans.

PR: Yeah.

BL: Now, I wanted to ask about the teams you played for in the World Baseball Classic, because I saw that you played for two different teams.  You were with Australia in 2006 and then you switched in 2009 and played for South Africa.  So how did that happen, what was the reasoning behind it?

PR: Um, the first time I played in the Classic, the whole leadup I was hitting well and playing well, then when I got to the Classic I had two at-bats in the last game and I was kind of upset about that.  And then right in the break between there was the Olympics and I didn’t make the team that went to the qualifying, so I decided to go with South Africa, and try to get more game time and then once I started to play for South Africa I felt a lot happier.  It was just good.

BL: So when did you start playing with the South African team?

PR: Just in the Classic was my first time with South Africa.

BL: Was it a little bit strange to be competing against the guys from Australia?  Did you know the guys on the team?

PR: On which team?  The Australian team?

BL: On the Australian team, yeah.

PR: Yeah, I knew most of those guys and it was different going on a different team.

BL: So did you feel better about your experience this time around, did you feel like it was, I guess, more fun?  How did the experience differ from 2006?

PR: 2006 I felt like I was that extra guy, yeah, pretty much I was an extra, and this time I was a starter.  I don’t like coming off the bench, I’d rather start.

BL: That’s understandable, I guess.  You actually played a lot in Australia, just a lot of different competitions, is it the Claxton Shield competition?

PR: Yeah, that’s a national tournament that we have every year.

BL: And you’ve played in that the last several years?

PR: Yeah.

BL: It seems like that always brings out the best in you, seemed like looking at your numbers, your numbers are always pretty solid during that.

PR: Yeah.

BL: So is that something that you’re going to continue to do now?  Does the fact that you played for South Africa in the WBC change anything?

PR: No, because I’m still a resident and I can still play for my state.  Because with the Classic, it doesn’t count towards any international tournaments, so even if you played for a certain country, usually in international rules if you play for a country you can’t play for anyone else for the next three years, but with the Classic, you can play wherever you want to play.

BL: So that’s good, so it doesn’t discourage you from playing for a certain team.  Have you played in any other countries besides Australia and the US?

PR: I’ve just played tournaments in other countries.

BL: You’ve never played in a professional league anywhere?

PR: No.

BL: I saw you played in the US for a little while, in organized ball, with the Twins.  It seemed like you were off to a pretty good start, in 2003 you had a pretty good year, but then it kind of abruptly ended within a couple years, so I was curious what happened with that whole situation.  I mean, were you caught behind somebody, was it just not a good fit?

PR: I had a really good year in Rookie ball, and then because I had finished my school my first year I got signed, so I had to go to A ball, and then when I was in A ball, coming out of spring, I don’t know what I got, but I got something, I got sick, just before the season, and I lost like 15 or 20 pounds in two or three days because I couldn’t eat anything, I couldn’t do anything, and then I still went to the field because I was too scared not to.  And then, you know, I went to the field one day and then I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t really drink or anything, and then I thought I should be okay, and the next day I went to the field and I just said no, I need to go to the doctor.  And then I just felt weak going into the season and I think, ‘cause I was meant to be the starting second baseman and in my first game I struck out three times and just had a really slow start and then I was coming off the bench, I wasn’t really starting or anything, so…

BL: So kind of a number of things…

PR: Yeah, it just went from really good to really bad.  And then the next year I was just that extra guy.  I remember I’d have a really good series or something because a high-rounder got hurt, so I came in, I’d have a really good series and as soon as he got better I’d come straight back out.  Like, whenever I got hot I could never stay in there.  I went 4-for-4 one day, and that was when my parents were in town, and my fiancée, and…yeah, I went 4-for-4, made the game-winning catch, into the fence, and almost broke my neck, and the next day I played then didn’t play for four days, then played again, had a series where I had about six hits or something, and didn’t play for a week, then played the next Sunday, and then, yeah, I couldn’t really get into a groove or anything.

BL: It’s got to be really tough, especially when you thrive by starting and by playing often.

PR: It’s just more of a confidence thing when you’re in the game, at the start of the game.  You’re used to coming to the field knowing that you’re going to play, but otherwise coming to the field not knowing that you’re gonna play, and there’s a good chance you’re not playing today.

BL: After you and the Twins parted ways, you ended up going into the Frontier League with the Chillicothe Paints.  How did that come about?  Was there a process involved where you were like, “Okay, there’s no organizations that are looking at me and I really want to keep playing,” and then you looked at the independents?  How did you go about it?

rutgers_chillicothePR: When I got released they gave me a paper with numbers and teams from independent leagues, and they said because I was from Australia I could stay at the hotel for a couple days and call around and stuff and then I came to the stadium with my fiancée and my scout called me because I had a really good spring that year when I got released so I knew I had to do something to get somewhere or something like that and I was playing really good.  Then he called me and I didn’t expect anything and he said let me call around for you a little bit as well, and then he called me back a day or two later and he said, “The manager for the Chillicothe Paints in the Frontier League wants to sign you.”

BL: What was your impression of the team and the league, the competition level, that sort of thing?

PR: It was a big difference, going from where you’ve got six teams that are trying to make it to the A team, five or six teams, and in this one the team you’re going to is the actual team.  It’s even more cutthroat than being in organized ball.

BL: Did it feel like a team or was it like “every man for himself” almost?

PR: It’s a team but everyone is trying to get back to organized ball, so it’s a bit different.  It’s different but the same, in a way.

BL: You’re 25 now?

PR: Yeah.

BL: And you’ve been in the independents for a few years.  Do you still go to the ballpark every day and say, “Maybe someday, somebody, the right person will see me and I’ll end up in the major leagues,” or are you playing just because you love to play baseball, or is it somewhere in between those?

PR: I’d like to get back into organized ball and get to where I want to be.

BL: Do you have any plans for when you’re done playing right now, or is that sort of, you’re still a young guy so that’s too far off?

PR: It’s been making it tough because I have a daughter now, she’s three, and a fiancée, so I’ve got my own family now.  That makes it tough because I’m still going back and forth from Australia to here.  With baseball, I at least get to stay in the states and play, so I’m kind of close.  At least we’re in the same country, where we can stay in contact and be able to see them more often than I would if I was at home.

BL: You’re gonna be in Tucson this year?

PR: I hope so.

BL: You’re hopefully starting off in Tucson this year?

PR: Yeah.

BL: And you ended up with them sort of the same way, sort of word of mouth?

PR: I think Bryan, my agent, and another guy, they’ve been sending out profiles and stuff to teams, and they actually called back and were interested…and  I thought that I did pretty good in the leadoff games and in the Classic I was hitting the ball pretty hard, and you could see that if you were watching the games, you could actually see it.

BL: Was it disappointing that you guys were done after just a couple games?  Were you hoping to be alive a little bit longer and get more of a chance to show yourselves off?

PR: It would’ve been good to go longer, but it’s just that we don’t have the depth in the pitching, just to get us there.  In a way we did a lot better than in the past.  We played nine innings in both games.  We kept it close until like a blowout inning where it just takes off.  Because they were all close games until the sixth or seventh.

BL: I was wondering earlier if there’s anything you look to pick up when you’re playing a team like Cuba or Mexico, teams that have had some success or experience in international competition.  Do you look at the way they approach the game and see what you can pick up from them?

PR: No, Cuba comes on the field and they just have that, “We know we’re gonna win” type attitude, like, “We are good.”

BL: So they have that confidence and that swagger.

PR: It’s sort of like they just show up and…it’s just like a natural thing.

BL: Must come from being so good for so long.  You don’t expect anyone to beat you.  So are you planning on continuing to play for South Africa in international competitions?

PR: Yeah, I’m gonna do that.

BL: So that’s gotta be interesting to be part of a young program that’s sort of finding it’s way.

PR: Yeah, it’s just in talking with them and everything, it would help me and help them.  I think it was a big bonus that we, a couple of Australians that came across, played for them and stuff.

BL: Yeah, because I looked over the roster, and you weren’t necessarily one of the older guys but you weren’t one of the younger guys on the team, so did you have a leadership role at all?

PR: I did feel pretty old, though.  I felt like one of the older guys because I’ve had so much experience in pro ball.

BL: So did you feel the younger guys looked to you for advice on things or came to you with questions?  Did you have any sort of leadership role with the team?

PR: Yeah, I tried to do that, have a leadership role.  At first, it was kind of standoffish, we had played for Australia, we’re from Australia, and we’re coming onto a team where we’re taking place of the friends that they’ve had that played on the team, so it just made it a bit different in that way.  And then it just turned into, we got really close and everyone bonded good. There was no bad feelings toward any of us that came in.

BL: And this was a team that will presumably stay together for a few years?

PR: Yeah, for awhile.  I know for a long time they had a lot of old guys playing and the young guys never really got on there.

BL: And so now it’s sort of switching around.

PR: Yeah, in the Classic, they got a new manager and everything, and he’s actually doing all the tournaments and everything now, so that helps out a lot.

BL: It sounds like things are really moving in the right direction for you.

PR: I hope so.

BL: It sounds like it.  I appreciate your time, I’m gonna let you get back to your family now.  But I really do appreciate you taking the time to talk to me and wish you the best of luck in the future.

PR: Alright, thanks for that.

(Many thanks to Paul for agreeing to speak with me and to Darren Heitner and Bryan Swalley from Dynasty Sports Representation for setting everything up.)