As athletes we have a tendency to forget just how precious life is. We spend our time striving for better performance, looking for ways to improve, and aiming to obtain the college scholarship or to get drafted. We tend to forget just how lucky and blessed we are to have the opportunity to get up each day, live our life, and play this great game. It’s only when life slaps us in the face that we take the time out to reflect on the things for which we are grateful and maybe take a moment to stop striving and simply enjoy the gift of playing.
Unfortunately this past weekend life reminded me just how fragile it can be. In the early morning hours of Saturday September 24th 2011 my
client of the past four years, Rudy Ledesma, was killed when he fell asleep while driving back to his dorm at Cal Baptist University in Riverside, Ca.
In my job as a hitting instructor I often wear many hats. Part baseball coach, part psychologist, part mentor, and sometimes, part big brother. I spend my time teaching my clients the mechanical skills that will enable them to become better hitters, the mental skills that will help them deal with failure, and the life skills that will hopefully allow them to accomplish any dream they may have for their life. Mostly, clients come and go and you hope that in some way you have positively impacted their life. Every now and then however an athlete comes along that has as much of an impact on you as you do on them. Occasionally you are lucky enough to work with an athlete who transcends the player/instructor relationship and becomes something more. There is no doubt that over the past four years Rudy was one of these players.
Aside from being a very talented baseball player Rudy had a personality that would take over whatever room he entered. Being that the instructors I work with are all guys with strong personalities who are passionate about the game of baseball and love to have a good time it’s safe to say we loved Rudy from day one. His character, charm, sense of humor, and quick wit allowed him to fit in perfectly and allowed him to not only survive our consistent banter but to throw out some jabs of his own. No topic was ever off-limits, whether we were joking about the clothes he was wearing (something we did quite often as he was a “fashion” guy) or a recent performance on the field Rudy always took our ribbing with a smile and then would manage to dish some out to us.
Athletically, he was extremely coachable and took instruction well. He was athletic enough to make the adjustments I asked and he was passionate enough to do the extra work that it takes to become an elite level hitter. I never had to worry about him getting his work in. Days that we didn’t have a lesson it was never a surprise to see his mom Tammie throwing him batting practice in one of our other cages.
His passion for the game was undeniable and like many other areas of his life he loved to put his own style to it. From the way he wore his uniform, to his custom shoes, or the custom blue and orange glove that matched his high school colors Rudy was not only going to play the game but he was going to do it his way. Naturally upbeat and positive, I guess he always figured, if you’re going to do something you might as well have fun doing it. Regardless if we were working in the cage, working on his throwing, or even if he was shagging balls at first base for another one of my clients Rudy made sure he was having fun.
He was confident from the standpoint that he never backed away from a challenge. A quality that he no doubt learned from his parents Rudy and Tammie, it helped him compete at an extremely high level. He wasn’t blessed with eye-popping tools, he wasn’t 6 foot plus and 200 pounds, he didn’t posses blazing speed, he didn’t have a lightning bolt for an arm, he was just a damn good player. He was convinced, and give him a minute and he’d try to convince you, that he could do anything on the baseball field. Hit left-handed? No problem! Play shortstop? I can do that! Need a catcher? I’ll be the best one you got! (keep in mind Rudy was a right-handed hitting outfielder) It was this belief in himself, his work ethic, his willingness to learn, and his unwillingness to ever back down that ultimately allowed him to accomplish his dream of playing college baseball.
After graduation this past June he earned the opportunity to continue his career at Cal Baptist University in Riverside, Ca. An opportunity that I know he was looking forward to. I’ll never forget our last lesson together shortly before he left for school. I remember telling him to, “keep your mouth shut, work your butt off, and stay out of trouble.” In typical Rudy fashion however he simply flashed me a smile and told me how HE was going to be the one who pushed CBU over the top. At the time I rolled my eyes thinking, “This kid has no idea what he’s in for!” Looking back at it now however it was perfect. I shouldn’t have expected any other response nor should I have hoped for something different. That was Rudy, that’s who he was and it’s because of who he was that got him there in the first place.
I’m often credited with helping my athletes reach a certain level of success. Shortly before Rudy died his mom Tammie even called me a “God send”. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned in my decade of instructing it’s that I can’t teach passion, I can’t teach character, I can’t teach work ethic, and I can’t teach perseverance. Those qualities can only be taught by the parents and are exactly what’s needed to get an athlete to the elite levels of athletics and the elite levels of life. Rudy and Tammie are 100% responsible for empowering their son to reach his dream, something that I will admire about them for the rest of my life. They raised one heck of a baseball player but more importantly they raised one heck of a man.
Will I miss him? Absolutely! I miss him already. Yesterday, a day that he would have normally shown up for a lesson, I kept hoping he would come strutting around the corner with his signature Rudy swagger. Giving me the typical head nod and the laid back, “What’s up?” wearing his “V” neck t-shirt and baggy sweat pants. But as the realization hits me that we have worked together for the last time, I’m of course hit with sadness but mostly with gratitude. I’m grateful to have known him, to have been able to share in something that meant so much to him. I’m grateful to have gotten to know his family, to see him grow from high school freshman to college athlete. Mostly though I’m honored to have been in his life. No question Rudy was special and no doubt he will always be remembered. As is typical in the baseball community we love our stories and Rudy left us with plenty. I know, years from now, we’ll still be talking about him, telling stories about him, and laughing about the good times we shared. One thing is for sure, he won’t be forgotten.
So, to close this out I just want to say, Rudy rest in peace my friend. I hope that heaven needed an outfielder and someone to lighten up the clubhouse. Remember dude, to use that top hand, drive that front shoulder down, and allow that barrel to continue to extend, when you do everything else falls into place and that’s when you’re at your best.