Ohio’s Rudy Rott catches a ball during the Bobcats’ game against Northern Illinois on March 31. (FILE)
Rudy Rott has had a bat in his hands since he was about 10 months old.
Rudy Rott Sr., Rudy’s father, got him an inflatable bat to play with. When the elder Rott saw his son’s swing, he knew that he had potential.
“I thought, boy, that’s a pretty nice swing. You know it was pretty fluid and pretty easy,” the elder Rott said.
As Rudy got older, he transitioned from the blow up bat to a wiffle bat. As the years went on, Rudy worked on his swing with his dad nearly every day. Even in the winter, the two would find a place to hit in Holmen, Wisconsin, Rudy’s hometown.
Those moments together were special, and they created a bond. The elder Rott’s father was a pitcher in the Florida State League after World War II, but he died when Rudy Sr. was 6 years old. In having a good relationship with Rudy, the elder Rott sees what a relationship with his father, who was also named Rudy, would likely look like.
Rudy, now a junior first baseman for Ohio, couldn’t have developed into one of the Bobcats’ premier hitters without help from his dad. The elder Rott, who played high school baseball in Wisconsin, coached Rudy from when he was a kid until the end of his high school days.
When Rudy comes back home, he and his father still practice. Rudy tells his dad the routine he does with the Bobcats when he practices his first base skills. The elder Rott helps with the routine, throwing Rudy balls the way Ohio does.
“Just thinking every day, watching film, talking about how I’m being pitched, and just talking with my dad,” Rudy said. “He’s watched a lot of video as well, so he knows a lot about baseball and hitting. He’s the reason I am where I am.”
When the elder Rott comes to watch Rudy play, he’ll sit in a spot where he can see Rudy’s hands. If Rudy’s hands are in the wrong position, the elder Rott will give his son some suggestions.
But other than that, the elder Rott doesn’t want Rudy overthinking at the plate. The elder Rott will generally only ask Rudy how he’s feeling and if he’s seeing the ball.
While the elder Rott has helped Rudy develop as a player over the years, he has not played the role of authoritarian. He doesn’t defer to Rudy. Rather, he has recognized his son’s intelligence and natural gifts for the game of baseball.
“I mean I just watched him at practice today and how he works around the bag, and again, how he throws,” the elder Rott said when he was in Athens for the Northern Illinois series.
“It’s all very, very natural. He just moves fluidly.”
When Rudy was a pitcher during high school, the elder Rott said that his son once called his own game from the mound as he remembered how to approach certain hitters. Rott has now seen how pitchers have thrown against him over the years. When he was a freshman, he was in the sixth hole. He saw a lot of fastballs early in the season.
But as he hit fastballs, he was able to gain confidence. After he gained confidence through hitting fastballs, he developed even more.
“I don’t really know how to explain exactly, but just developing an approach where I’m relaxed and my bat’s on plane so I can hit multiple pitches,” Rudy said. “So whether it’s a changeup, fastball or curveball, just see it out of (the pitcher’s) hand and make an adjustment.”
That development has helped Rudy become one of Ohio’s most important players. He’s the leader of a lineup that leads the Mid-American Conference in home runs, hits and RBIs as of April 3.
Rott, who is batting .368, is the leader on the Bobcats for each of those stats.
“Rudy is probably one of the best hitters I’ve ever played with, so you get to see how he approaches each at-bat, how he works pitchers,” said Trevor Hafner, Ohio’s starting shortstop.
Hafner acknowledged that what Rudy, along with some of Ohio’s other top hitters, brings is the potential for momentum. When Rudy gets a hit, the rest of the lineup feeds off that. During the first game of the Northern Illinois series, Rudy hit a single in the bottom of the fifth inning after pitcher Michael Klein drew a walk. Tanner Piechnick came up to bat after Rudy, and he hit a single that helped Klein score.
With Piechnick on first and Rott on second after Klein’s run, second baseman Aaron Levy hit a single. The bases were loaded, and Ryan Sargent hit a single to drive in Piechnick and Rott for two runs. The Bobcats scored four runs in that inning, and they won the game 6-1.
Rudy got the first of five hits for Ohio in the bottom of the fifth, and he finished the game with a walk, strikeout, a run and a hit on three at-bats.
“He’s a definitely a really good all-around player,” Klein said.
The gifts that Rudy has are complementary. His intelligence, his ability to hit well, his skills as a first baseman – all those skills make him the player he is.
Throughout his career, Rudy has developed a mindset in which he expects to hit. The elder Rott said that it’s not arrogance from his son; it’s simply what Rudy expects of himself.
Even when he’s in a slump, Rudy knows he can always go back to analyzing his swing, the foundation for his success at the plate.
“He says, ‘I know I can hit .400,’” the elder Rott said.