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by Shelley Cunningham, '98
When asked about the connection between pitching for a minor-league baseball team and going to seminary, Charlie Ruud answers like a good Lutheran: It's all about vocation.
"When I'm throwing, I'm serving as a baseball player," said Ruud, a pitcher for the St. Paul Saints who just completed his middler year as a master of divinity student at Luther Seminary. "I'm using the gifts God gave me. I try to do that in a godly way, by loving my neighbor and all that."
So can one love one's neighbor and still try and strike him out? Ruud doesn't see a contradiction. "Of course I get mad at myself if someone hits a three-run homer off me," he said, "but mostly, I love the game. That's what keeps me playing."
After finishing a stellar college career at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., where he doublemajored in music and religion, Ruud entered Luther Seminary to explore serving in ordained ministry. But after his first year at seminary, he said, "I still had the itch to play ball." He joined the Saints in August 2004 after an open tryout, on a one-game basis, but impressed the coaches enough to earn a permanent spot on the roster. Now in his third season, he's been a consistent force on the mound for the popular Independent League club.
Ruud admits when his teammates found out about his theological pursuits, he got a few funny looks. But "when I'm there, I play baseball, you know? They know me as a baseball player," he said. "I play hard, I like to win. I've got enough sin in my basket that it doesn't scare people away."
Yet he also feels like God uses him to reach his teammates. "I've been able to meet people I would never have talked to--guys who aren't connected to a church, some who don't know what they believe. Every once in a while someone will come up to me with a theological question, or ask if I can pray for something, or they'll sit by me in a game and we'll end up talking about the Bible."
His passion for baseball also has kept him serving as a pitching coach at St. Olaf, which makes his spring schedule a little hectic. But he's been thankful for understanding professors and a flexible class schedule that accommodates the many games and practices he attends. And, he's been blessed with the support of his wife, Becky, who teaches junior-high Spanish and also coaches cross country and track.
This fall that schedule will change as he starts his internship year. He'll be at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, and though he's never served in a campus ministry setting, he feels excited about connecting with college-age students as they struggle with new freedom and opportunities.
"Coming from coaching at St. Olaf, I know how hard it is for people in
that age bracket. They're forced to ask themselves, 'what does faith mean to me, apart from Mom or Dad or friends or church back home?' I remember the pressures of college. And I'm looking forward to helping them get their lives figured out.
One thing's for sure: whether throwing a fastball or preaching the gospel, Ruud will be true to his vocation.
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