Michael Rucker and Nick Minteer have played ball together for 10 years.
Through middle school, select baseball and on into high school, the Auburn Riverside graduates wore the same uniform, enjoyed thrashing the same opponents. And, what do you know, as the duo moves on to the next level, they’ll still be playing together — this round for the Gonzaga University Bulldogs.
“It’s funny, we played on the North Tapps Bulldogs, the Kent (Select) Bulldogs and now the Gonzaga Bulldogs,” Minteer said with a laugh.
They first became teammates in second grade when Rucker and his family moved from Mississippi to Auburn.
Seems only fitting that Minteer’s first impression of Rucker was on the diamond.
“I thought he was a pretty darn good pitcher,” Minteer said. “We both hit pretty good, but he was usually the pitcher.
“I just remember Nick was always the fast one,” Rucker added.
By the time they began playing middle school ball for the North Tapps Bulldogs, the pair were already rising above the pack.
“We kicked everybody’s butt (at North Tapps),” Minteer said. “We only lost one or two games in seventh and eighth grade.”
“And those were the games we weren’t there,” Rucker added.
Seeking to further hone their skills, Rucker – a pitcher – and Minteer – an outfielder – joined the Kent Bulldogs for the summer select seasons, playing up to 70 games each season.
Leaving their mark with the Ravens
Once in high school, the duo lit up the South Puget Sound League North, driving the Ravens to state berths in their junior and senior years.
Minteer capped his prep career with a solid 2012 season, hitting .397 with 21 RBIs, seven doubles and 10 stolen bases.
Rucker hit .316 at the plate but was lethal on the hill, compiling a 5-3 record with a stingy 1.21 ERA, notching 73 strikeouts in 63.2 innings pitched.
As a team, Auburn Riverside finished the year with a 16-9-1 overall record, 9-7 in the SPSL North 4A. The Ravens qualified for the state 4A playoffs but lost in the first round to Gonzaga Prep, 6-5.
“We started non-league pretty solid, 3-0,” Rucker said. “Then going into league we kind of found ourselves in a rough spot. But I think we just needed to kind of find our identity and figure out what our roles where. That helped us to establish a team that qualified for the playoffs and made it to state again.”
“Putting Auburn Riverside on the map was a high point,” Minteer said.
Minteer and Rucker were rewarded for their senior seasons with selections to the Washington State All-State Baseball Series in June, and both were named game MVPs for their respective performances.
“There were 72 kids, all the way from 1B to 4A,” Rucker said. “We played in the championship game, which was us, Team Adams versus Rainier. I went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run. On the mound I pitched two innings and struck out four. I closed it out and got the save, and we won the championship.”
Minteer, who played for Team St. Helens, won his MVP award with a 2-for-3 performance, slugging a triple and a single.
“It was interesting and fun to see all the best kids that you normally play against all on the same team,” Minteer said. “The competitiveness was cool to see.”
“It’s good just being around people that take baseball seriously, that love the game,” Rucker said. “That’s always fun.”
Rucker and Minteer finish up their select careers this summer, playing 60-70 games as they prepare for collegiate baseball in Spokane.
“It’s about work ethic now,” Minteer said. “Now everybody is talented. In college it’s the little things that can separate you from the next guy.”
“Once you get into even collegiate ball, everybody is good. They’ve proven they can compete,” Rucker said. “You just need to set yourself apart from your competition.”