It's a familiar story line in
Only this time, it's not
"Any story like that, where guys make it from way out in left field, it's awesome," Rucinski said of Shoemaker, a former substitute teacher who signed with the Angels as a nondrafted free agent in 2008 and finished second in
"It gives you confidence you can do it, too. It shows you can get outs no matter who you are. Baseball is such a crazy game. You never know where you're going to end up."
Rucinski, who played for Ohio State, signed as a free agent with the
He hooked on with the Rockford (Ill.) RiverHawks of the independent
"Our clubhouse was basically a contemporary trailer from a construction site, and the field wasn't that great," Rucinski said. "But it's still professional baseball. You're still living the dream."
Dreams don't pay the bills, though. The off-season before the 2013 season, Rucinski worked at an Oklahoma pecan farm, raking debris out of the nuts shaken out of trees by a machine. After that season, he worked at an Ohio sporting goods store.
"I was trying to pay the rent," Rucinski said.
Rucinski pitched well enough at Rockford in 2013 to catch the eye of the Angels, who signed him that August to fill our their rotation in Class-A Inland Empire, where Rucinski was 2-2 with a 1.86 ERA in five starts.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Rucinski added strength and a tick or two of velocity to his fastball the next off-season. He blossomed at double-A Arkansas in 2014, finishing 10-6 with a 3.15 ERA, striking out 140 and walking 41 in 148 2/3 innings and earning two brief major league callups with the Angels.
Rucinski carried that momentum into this spring, posting a 2-1 record and 2.60 ERA, striking out 16 and walking four in 17 1/3 innings. He impressed the Angels not only with his stuff, which includes a 93-mph fastball, split-fingered fastball, slider and changeup, but with the way he attacked hitters.
"His stuff is real, and he shows no fear on the mound," General Manager
Rucinski said his approach hasn't changed.
"Just throw strike one and get ahead in the count," he said.
If he opens the season in the bullpen, Rucinski would be a candidate to make a spot start April 14. If he is on the opening-day roster, he'll look back on the adversity he overcame as one of the reasons he made it.