Junior starting pitcher Michael Rucker is the best pitcher on the BYU baseball pitching staff.
He’s also one of the best starters in Division-I baseball.
He currently sits with a nearly perfect mark of 11-1 on the season, tied for the second-most wins in the nation. He’s struck out 94 batters and owns an ERA of 2.73.
With him on the mound, the Cougars have lost just one game. Without him, they are only 25-15.
“From my perspective, he’s one of the best pitchers I’ve had the opportunity to coach,” said pitching coach Jeremy Thomas. “Honestly, in my opinion he could go pitch in Double-A and be successful.”
Rucker said going pro is something he’s dreamed of his entire life. But after his marriage to Sydney Shuman, he said that decision might get more difficult.
“My wife and I have had a lot of long conversations on whether we should go or stay,” Rucker said. “We’re definitely nervous for us going up to the pro level just because time away is hard. Professional baseball has always been a dream of mine, but it definitely doesn’t come without its sacrifices.”
Whether he declares for the MLB draft or returns to Provo for his senior season, Rucker will be playing the game he loves.
Rucker began playing baseball when he was six years old in Missouri. After watching his older brother’s baseball games he decided he wanted to give it a shot. By the time he was at Auburn Riverside High School in Washington, baseball was his sole focus. He wanted to play at the Division-I level.
“I never really branched out to other sports in high school,” Rucker said. “Baseball is what I loved and what I wanted to do. I wanted to play at the D-I level. All the preparation up to this point is how I’ve gotten to where I am now.”
As a junior at Auburn Riverside he went 8-2 with a 1.51 ERA. As a senior, he was ranked as the no. 3 right-handed pitcher in Washington by Baseball Northwest.
After a successful high school career, he started getting recruited by several schools, including BYU, but ultimately decided to sign with Gonzaga.
“Gonzaga gave me the best scholarship offer, and they’ve had a lot of success with pitching,” Rucker said.
Things changed after his first year with the Bulldogs, and he turned his attention back to Provo.
“The size of school, changing my major, my girlfriend coming to BYU and other factors just continued to get me away from Gonzaga,” Rucker said. “These factors made me go towards BYU, which brings me to where I am now and I love it.”
Rucker grew up Catholic, but started considering the LDS Church when he began to date Shuman. It was only a matter of time for Rucker to get baptized and marry Shuman.
But it was how the pair got married that surprised everyone.
Rucker’s parents weren’t thrilled about missing the wedding in an LDS temple, so Shuman’s parents decided to send the two on a 10-day destination wedding to Laie, Hawaii. The first two days were for the endowment and sealing; the other eight days were for the honeymoon.
“I think my parents were a little upset,” Rucker said. “But they’re happy with how my life’s turned out, especially after transferring to BYU with how successful I’ve been in baseball and in the business school. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not necessarily how you get there, but that you got there.”
Rucker’s goal heading into this season was to win the West Coast Conference championship, a goal the Cougars have partially achieved after winning a share of the regular season title. The team dropped its first game of the WCC tournament, but is aiming at a bid to the NCAA tournament.
“Making it to the West Coast Conference tournament (was) our No. 1 goal,” Rucker said. “Making it to regionals, which we haven’t done in 12 years is No. 2. After that, we want to see just how far we make it.”
The NCAA tournament runs through the majority of June. While the Cougars may be playing, there’s another event happening off the field.
The MLB draft is June 9-11. Rucker will ultimately have to decide whether to go pro or return to the Cougars.
While it’s a heavy decision, Rucker said he doesn’t “worry too much about it” when he’s on the mound. He prefers to let his work speak for itself.