Edna Karr at Neville - 2019 Class 4A Semifinals

Played at Ruple Stadium, Monroe, La., 6Dec2019. Photo by TOM MORRIS/The Ouachita Citizen. c2019.TomMorrisPhotos.com. All Rights Reserved

The future for Zeb Ruddell involves donning purple and gold in Baton Rouge. That much the No. 2 ranked prospect of the Class of 2022 knows. It's a lifelong dream that came to fruition this summer when he was offered by the LSU Tigers. 

The Neville star’s near future in the meantime, however, remains a bit of a mystery after undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 30th.

The recent LSU baseball commit initially injured his elbow while pitching for the 16U Louisiana Knights Black. Less than 20 pitches into his outing on the mound, he felt a pop in his elbow. No worries, Ruddell iced it that night and went back to playing right field the next day.

But that's when a routine play for Ruddell became costly. The rising junior left-hander was attempting to do what so very few can at his age, and that’s throw out a runner at home plate from the outfield. It’s something he’s done numerous times in his young career. But this time was different.

“I felt my whole arm go numb,” Ruddell said. “I knew something was wrong. I still batted after that. I bit my shirt and swung with everything I could. I think I even got a hit.”

After Ruddell suffered his injury, his family looked up perhaps the most famous American orthopedic surgeon associated with sports, Dr. James Andrews. Ruddell went to the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Fla. to have Tommy Johns surgery on June 30th, shutting down the rest of his travel ball season and keeping him out of action for the foreseeable future.

It didn’t take Ruddell long to notice he was in good hands down in Florida.

“My mom didn’t want me to go to anywhere else in the country,” Ruddell said. “He’s a very cool down to earth man. My mom was telling me all about him, but when I got in there, I saw all the jerseys on the wall.”

Andrews has worked with some of the most famous athletes in the world, including Bo Jackson, Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan, Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre.

Ruddell gets to add his name to list, and he hopes one day his name will carry the same clout akin to those aforementioned. For a player who is just shy of two complete athletic seasons in high school, he’s off to a pretty good start.

Ruddell, who committed to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette in January, burst onto the recruiting scene when he turned heads at the Future Stars Event months later. The 6’1”, 195-pound Ruddell ran a 6.46 60-yard dash time and wowed in batting practice with an exit velocity of more than 100-miles-per-hour on dingers.

In a limited season, he batted .370 with the Neville Tigers before shifting gears to travel ball during the pandemic.

What’s funny about Ruddell’s recruitment is it wasn't the first time Ruddell had coaches vying for his skill-set. Actually, he was somewhat of a hot commodity for his own high school, especially inside the athletic facility where coaches discussed where he fit the team best.

Neville football coaches made their pleas to former head coach Mickey McCarty as to why Ruddell best fit the team’s offense and defense. At the end of the day, though, Ruddell was learning both sides, as he eventually played both sides during the 2019 season.

“It was weird,” Ruddell said. “I would go into an offensive meeting for 15 minutes and then go to defensive meetings. I would switch sides in the middle of practice. It was just a challenge, but I wanted to live up to the challenge.”

Ruddell’s surgery will unfortunately sideline him for the 2020 football season, and he’s still undecided on whether or not he’ll play his senior season.

But that’s a decision he’ll have to make down the road. Right now, it’s all about the recovery process.

After starting physical therapy as soon as he got back from Florida, Ruddell got his stitches out two weeks later and attempted to up the volume on what he could do. At three months post-surgery, Ruddell said he’d begin hitting a baseball. And at four months, he’d start a throwing program, which he estimated would last another two-to-four months.

“Barring any setbacks, I should be fully back to throwing in eight or nine months,” Ruddell said.

Ruddell isn’t expecting to pitch as a junior with the Tigers, but he does plan on hitting and fielding with Neville.

“Right now I’m just trying to stay as active as much as I can,” Ruddell said. “I can’t stay inside more than five minutes. I can’t do it. I’ve been going back to the field and throwing front toss with my right hand. Being around the game helps me.”

If there’s any solace in what’s been a somewhat tumultuous summer for Ruddell, it’s the fact he got a confidence boost from his future head coach Paul Mainieri. Ruddell told Mainieri and LSU’s coaching staff that he was set to have surgery, and the Tigers coaching staff offered their support in return. It’s those relationships, along with a lifelong dream to play in Baton Rouge, that made Ruddell’s decision easy.

“The atmosphere there for one thing stands out,” Ruddell said. “I’ve been to a bunch of games there. There’s nothing like that atmosphere. I’ve talked a lot with (recruiting coordinator) Nolan Cain. He’s a cool dude. As soon as you talk to him, and you’re on the phone with him, you get that vibe.

“Paul Mainieri is too. I told him when I hurt my arm and that it was likely torn and need surgery, but they didn’t care. They just told me to get well soon, and they’ll keep checking on me and be with me through the process. And they have. That meant everything in the world.”

As Ruddell makes his way back to the diamond next year, eyes across the state will be watching. 

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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