When minor league umpires tune in to Major League Baseball games, they watch the officiating, hoping to get ideas on how to do their job more effectively.
Porter-Gaud senior Ben AvRutick does the same thing. But instead of watching umpires interact with stars like New York Yankees’ sluggers Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, he studies the bat boys.
“I like to see how others do the job on a larger stage like the majors,” he said.
The lessons have helped AvRutick at Riley Park, where he’s served as a bat boy for the Charleston RiverDogs since 2010.
That was back when he was 9, and the job was more of an honorary position. He’s 17 and on the payroll now, and was recently named the South Atlantic League's Bat Boy of the Year.
It’s a low-key honor, similar to the job itself. It’s also competitive — AvRutick is one of more than 40 bat boys in the SAL. The league umpires determine who receives the honor, and they said this year's call was a no-brainer.
“I talked to a few of the umpires working the championship series this week,” said Eric Krupa, president of the SAL. “Without hesitation, they said Ben from Charleston was the best.”
The title is a bit misleading, Krupa said. Collecting bats is important, but a bat boy’s most important role is making sure the umpire behind the plate is well-stocked with baseballs.
Each umpire wears two bags and each holds three baseballs. Typically, as balls get fouled off, hit out of the ballpark or discarded, the umpire has to signal to the bat boy to bring him more baseballs.
Except when AvRutick is on the job. He keeps count from the dugout and rushes baseballs out at opportune times. It’s a small gesture, but it helps keep the game going smoothly.
“He’s learned the experience of hard work while being around a sport that he loves,” said David AvRutick, Ben’s father. “As a parent, just watching him mature and learn responsibility over the years … I couldn’t ask for much more.”
AvRutick, who is a pitcher for the Porter-Gaud baseball team, said he'll always cherish the countless memories he's made with the RiverDogs, a Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees.
He was a bat boy for Judge in 2014, when the slugger lit up the SAL for nine homers and 45 RBIs through 65 games.
He was also working for Charleston in 2011 and 2012 when Sanchez hit 30 homers and posted 108 RBIs through 150 games.
The 17-year-old also met Yankee legend Reggie Jackson and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who played for the Columbia Fireflies in 2017.
“It’s been such a fun experience,” AvRutick said. “I take my job seriously, but it feels like I get paid to watch baseball. It’s a sport I love, so it’s never felt like work.”
RiverDogs president Dave Echols remembers AvRutick’s first day on the job. Seeing his progression from then to where he is now has been a blessing, Echols said.
“It’s really its own success story, when you consider how cool it’s been for him to be a part of the team,” Echols said. “He worked his way up from a kind of a volunteer role to being one of our regulars, and you can just see the enthusiasm he has for his job and for the game itself.”
This past season was his final one as a bat boy. But AvRutick plans to be at Riley Park for the foreseeable future as a member of the grounds crew.
It’ll be a change of pace, but it’s time to pass the torch. For years he’s been the smallest guy in the dugout but the biggest fan in the stadium.