COLUMBUS, Ohio – With much of the sports world at a standstill, former Buckeye Drew Rucinski saw the spotlight shining on him and his NC Dinos squad Monday night in the Dinos’ Korean Baseball Organization opener against the Samsung Lions. The right-hander, now in his second season with the team out of Changwon, South Korea, earned the win in the Dinos’ 4-0 victory, fanning six hitters while allowing three hits in six shutout frames.
The game, which was the first of several KBO contests to be televised on the ESPN family of networks this spring, was one in which baseball and sports fans in general looked forward to after the time away from live sports. However, Rucinski wasn’t thrown off by the game at Samsung Lions Park in Daegu being showcased around the globe.
“We found out the game would be on in the U.S. so last-minute that I honestly didn’t think too much about it,” Rucinski said. “I was more excited about our first real game starting. I think it’s great! It’s good for baseball globally and great publicity for the KBO to showcase the quality and talent of the players over here. I was very fortunate they chose my game.”
🎥 Highlights from overseas last night as @DrewRucinski was solid on Opening Day in South Korea, fanning six in six shutout innings in the @NCdinos_fan 4-0 win over the Samsung Lions
— Ohio State Baseball (@OhioStateBASE) May 5, 2020
Rucinski, who went 9-9 with a 3.03 earned-run average in 177.1 innings pitched a year ago, is settling in after a 2019 season spent adjusting to a new way of life overseas.
“Overall, last season was an awesome experience,” the Broken Arrow, Okla., native said. “It’s a unique adventure and anyone who is in the position to do it should. I’ve enjoyed meeting new people and learning a new culture. It’s really opened my eyes to a different part of the world.”
The journey to this point has been a winding road for Rucinski, who turned 31 in December.
A four-year letterwinner for the Buckeyes from 2008-11, Rucinski signed a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians after his senior season, in which he earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors and ranked fifth in the Big Ten in ERA, going 5-3 with a 2.95 ERA and 53 strikeouts in a team-high 82.1 innings pitched as the Buckeyes’ Friday night starter.
Rucinski went 4-0 with a 2.92 ERA in 37 innings at three different levels within the Indians’ minor-league system in 2012 and then pitched for the Rockland Aviators of the Independent Frontier League in 2012 and 2013 before signing a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in August 2013. He was named a Texas League All-Star in 2014 before ascending to make his big-league debut in July of that season. Rucinski went on to appear in 41 Major League games over parts of four different seasons between the Angels, Minnesota Twins and Miami Marlins organizations, last posting a 4.33 ERA in 32 games out of the Marlins’ bullpen in 2018.
He signed with the Dinos for the 2019 season but realized there would be a few challenges with his new role and new life in South Korea.
“My biggest challenge coming over here was probably just getting used to being a starter again,” Rucinski said. “The language barrier obviously was a challenge but, fortunately, I have fantastic translators that make my life way easier.”
Despite the obstacles, differences in how the game is played and the struggles the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, Rucinski’s enjoyed his time overseas.
“The fans are definitely different over here, even though they’re temporarily not allowed in the stadiums right now,” Rucinski said. “They transform the stadium into a totally different atmosphere than we’re used to in Major League Baseball. Also, American fans can see the crazy bat flips over here. It’s just something hitters do in the KBO and it doesn’t have such of a negative connotation. Obviously, when it comes to the pandemic, it delayed our opening day but the country has done a great job handling the outbreak. There hasn’t been a huge impact on everyday life. I still spend a lot of my time in my apartment or at the ballpark but we wear our masks pretty much everywhere except the field and have our temperatures checked daily when we arrive.”
Entering his ninth year in pro ball, Rucinski is focused on continuing to improve as his time in South Korea progresses.
“I just want to be as consistent as I can and go deep into every game,” Rucinski added. “I always want to continue to improve my communication and leadership with my teammates. Right now, I’m just looking forward to my next outing. Baseball kind of has a way of taking you wherever it feels like. I can only prepare my best and make the most of my opportunities.”
The former Ohio State standout who still ranks 10th in program history with 84 appearances, 16th in innings pitched with 257.1 and 17th with 22 career wins takes pride in representing the Scarlet and Gray.
“I’m happy to get the chance to represent Buckeye Nation,” Rucinski said. “I hope everyone is staying safe and that life returns to normal as soon as possible for everyone!”
Rucinski will make his next start against the LG Twins at 1 a.m. ET Sunday in a game televised live on ESPN2.