College Baseball: South Suburban’s Steve Ruzich gets NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame call
By Mike Clark firstname.lastname@example.org January 28, 2014 8:24PM
Steve Ruzich (right, seated), of South Suburban College | File photo
Updated: March 3, 2014 2:45PM
The snow drifts are up to the top of the fence at South Suburban College’s baseball field and the polar vortex has made another visit to the Chicago area.
But that’s not enough to spoil Bulldogs coach Steve Ruzich’s mood.
“In 37 days I’m going to Texas,” Ruzich said Tuesday afternoon. “I feel good.”
The promise of an escape to better weather for SSC’s annual southern swing isn’t the only reason Ruzich is happy these days.
Earlier this month, he got the news that he’ll be inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in the spring.
It’s a select group, with only 89 inductees since the Hall of Fame was launched in 1982.
That’s not the only reason this year could be special for Ruzich, who is entering his 28th season with the Bulldogs. He’s 22 wins away from 1,000 for his career, with a record of 978-565, to go along with 10 Region IV titles and two Midwest District championships.
Now he knows he’ll be in Grand Junction, Colo., for the Hall of Fame induction May 23 during the opening ceremony of the NJCAA World Series.
About the only thing that could make the day better is to have the Bulldogs — who have made the World Series twice during his tenure — qualify again.
“That’s what I said (to the players),” Ruzich said “There’s some extra incentive. It’d be nice.”
SSC doesn’t have to make it to the national tournament, though, for Ruzich to enjoy himself this season.
“I’ve still got the passion for teaching the kids, hopefully making a difference for them,” he said. “My wife (Patti) told me, ‘If you win the lotto, you’re still (going to be) coaching baseball.”
Ruzich played at the University of St. Francis in the 1980s, just missing the chance to play for Gordie Gillespie, the winningest coach in college baseball history over a career that spanned seven decades.
Is Ruzich planning to go after Gillespie’s record of 1,893 career wins? No promises.
“It’s amazing how the years pile up,” said Ruzich, who nonetheless could see himself going another decade at least.
However long he coaches, he expects to continue recruiting close to home in the south suburbs and just across the border in Northwest Indiana. It’s been a successful strategy, helping the Bulldogs produce 12 All-Americans, 22 players picked in the major league draft and five major leaguers.
The latter list includes pitcher Tony Cingrani, who had a breakout season for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013; 12-year MLB veteran lefty Tim Byrdak; and Ron Mahay, one of the few players in recent years to make the majors as both a position player and a pitcher.
Ruzich also is proud of his former players who went into coaching, some on his own staff and some elsewhere. The latter group includes Phil Wail, who has won a state title at Marian Catholic, and Harry Torgerson, the head coach at one of SSC’s main rivals, Triton.
Their success after leaving SSC, along with that of the hundreds of other players who have worn a Bulldogs uniform over the years, are as meaningful to Ruzich as anything.
“They’re hard-nosed kids who want to get better,” he said.
As Ruzich’s record suggests, they usually have.