Taking over the role of team leader isn't always easy, but that's one of the goals this season for Westminster baseball player Phil Ruzbarsky.
With the graduation of Brett Harman, now at Maryland, the responsibility fell to the senior center fielder, one of only two Carroll County players to be named preseason All-State.
Ruzbarsky, who will continue his career next year at the University of Richmond, talks about the challenges of becoming a leader, choosing a college and trying to help his team continue its high level of play following last season's Class 3A state title.
You were one of two Carroll County players picked for the preseason All-State team by the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches. Do such high expectations put a little more pressure on you to produce?
No, I kind of just take it as a positive thing to lead the team. Coming in last year, I learned a lot from the seniors. I use that to show the underclassmen what to do this year.
The team lost a great player in Brett Harman, the county's Player of the Year who's now at the University of Maryland. With him gone, do you and some of the other seniors really have to step up your roles as team leaders?
Yes, but it will show up in different ways. I think we're more offensively sound this year than we were last year, whereas last year we were more sound pitching-wise. It's been a little different and everyone is getting used to that. But if our pitching comes around, I think we should be doing great.
Given what you just said, does that mean you might be willing to take a few more chances at the plate than you might have a year ago?
Yes. I think one through nine, all of our batters can hit. Last year, that wasn't the case So, yeah, we're definitely relying on scoring more runs this year, because we know that's how we're going to succeed.
What's the No. 1 skill you personally need to improve on this season to be able to make it at the next level?
Basically, it's to be a leader. Last year I kind of followed the leaders after coming in and getting used to playing at the varsity level. It's about kind of keeping everybody calm, because when you start to stress, that's when things go bad. You've got to stay calm up there at the plate, especially.
You're regarded as one of the county's top hitters. Is that something you've spent a great deal of time working on?
Yes, over the offseason I tried to stay with that. I took a little bit off from the throwing and stuff, but I still tried to get into the cages. I worked with the Baseball Factory [in Columbia] over the winter a little bit, just to keep my swing going. I think that helped a lot, actually.
You've hit in both the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the lineup this season. Do you prefer one over the other?
Really no, there's not too much of a difference to me. I like hitting third, but whatever helps the team.
Do you look at yourself as the prototypical power cleanup hitter?
No, I look at myself as more of an all-field hitter -- kind of a singles and doubles hitter. Definitely not a power hitter, at this point. More like an average hitter.
You signed over the winter with the University of Richmond. I'd image it took a lot off your mind to get your college situation squared away prior to the start of the season.
Yeah, definitely. The fall recruiting process was crazy, and everyone will tell you that. But that was one of the good things. I got that out of the way, and that kind of allowed me to focus on this high school season.
Were you looking at a lot of schools?
UNC-Wilmington was another. Western Carolina had made an offer. Then there were schools like UMBC and Mount St. Mary's -- all the small Division I schools around the area.
So what was it that ultimately swayed you toward Richmond?
Obviously, they're great academically, but they play in the A-10 Conference, which is a pretty strong baseball conference. They've got UNC-Charlotte, which is ranked in the Top 25 in the country. I met the coaching staff beforehand and they all seemed like great guys. It just seemed like a good fit. And it's about 3½ hours away, and that's a good distance. I didn't want to be too close to home, but not too far away. Everything just fit.
You've also played basketball at Westminster all four years. Has that helped you keep in better shape for baseball season.
Yes, but I also think it's helped mentally, just to take your mind off baseball for a little bit. I mean, it's always baseball, baseball, baseball, so it's nice to have a little bit of down time where you're focused on a different sport.