Coppin State pitcher Timmy Ruffino made his college debut against The Citadel early in the abbreviated 2020 season. Coming on in relief, the left-hander retired eight in a row before a Citadel batter pushed a bunt toward first base.
The 5-foot-10 pitcher sprinted off the mound, scooped the ball up and got the batter at first. It was a good defensive play, but even more impressive considering that Ruffino has an underdeveloped right hand and what he calls “nubs” for fingers.
But the play upset the pitcher a bit since he thought the batter was trying to take advantage of a perceived defensive limitation.
“[I thought] do I go push him down or talk to the ball and stay in the game?” Ruffino said. “I took the second option. They were just trying to break [my] groove. They didn’t try it again.”
Ruffino was born with amniotic band syndrome, which causes congenital deformities in limbs.
Ruffino, a sports management major, began playing baseball about the age of 4, and he credits his parents with not telling him he couldn’t do things and encouraging him to try. He wasn’t able to tie his shoes until about the age of 12, but that didn’t stop him.
In addition to pitching, he also hit in high school but hasn’t come to bat yet for Coppin State.
“When I look back on it, I won’t even realize that I have one hand sometimes,” Ruffino said. “When I sit back and realize where I am, I realize I did everything right. When they say hard work pays off, it does.”
Basically, he does what former major league pitcher Jim Abbott, an idol of Ruffino’s, did during his pitching career. Abbott quickly switched the glove back to his dominant hand so he could play defense. That’s just what Ruffino does.
Ruffino, who would like to get into coaching or construction once his baseball career ends, is no stranger to making do off the field either.
The Louisiana native’s family lost just about everything when about seven feet of water engulfed their home during Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005. They evacuated to Tupelo during the storm and eventually settled in Bogalusa, right near the Mississippi line.
“He’s an incredible human being but he’s a great kid,” said Matt Greely, Coppin State’s associate head coach and pitching coach. “Timmy is the most unique pitcher I’ve ever worked with. He’s a left-handed pitcher, and he’s got a glove that he puts back on his left hand. The things that Timmy works on [are great].”
Greely and Ruffino’s club coach in high school had connected, and the Eagles wanted a good pitcher who could give them some innings. Ruffino already committed to a junior college near his home but thought Coppin State would give him more of a chance to pitch.
But Ruffino, who is now in Coppin’s starting rotation, didn’t agree to become an Eagle until two weeks before school began in the fall of 2019. Because of the pandemic, he’s still a redshirt freshman and retains four years of eligibility.
During last year’s short season, Ruffino started twice and came on in relief three times. He finished with a 2-2 record and a 4.15 ERA and struck out 15 batters in 17 ⅓ innings. He was twice named Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week. This year, Ruffino received a no-decision in his first appearance against Navy and suffered a loss on Friday against Mount St. Mary’s in his second outing.
Coppin State (0-5) coach Sherman Reed said that Ruffino’s family wanted to assure them that he’d be accepted by the team.
“They’re a welcoming group,” Reed said. “I think the parents trusted that was going to be the case. Timmy felt he was truly welcome during the visit. Timmy’s just so much mature beyond his age.”
The team showed how much they were behind him during The Citadel bunt play in his first game.
“Timmy just executed it in such a way that his popularity went through the ceiling,” Reed said. “It kind of got the entire team psyched. He put a stop to that.”
COPPIN STATE@MOUNT ST. MARY’S
Friday, 3 p.m.