COURTESY OF BROCK SCOTT
Keoni Ruth says the highlight of his college career at San Diego came this season, when the Toreros swept top-ranked Texas.
Ruth is on fire
The former Kamehameha star is making strides for the San Diego Toreros
KEONI Ruth has been the San Diego Toreros starting second baseman since the first game of his freshman season three years ago.
A shortstop throughout his career at Kamehameha where he was named the Star-Bulletin's All-State player of the year as a senior, the switch was made for two reasons.
As a senior on the Warrior football team, Ruth got hit on his right (throwing) shoulder, tweaking it the wrong way.
"It was the third game of the season and I played through it figuring it would go away," Ruth said. "I had an MRI after the season and needed arthroscopic surgery."
He was the Warriors' designated hitter in the preseason, played second for a few games, then returned to shortstop although his arm wasn't at full strength.
When Ruth arrived at San Diego, the Toreros had a senior shortstop and had signed another as part of Ruth's recruiting class.
"I knew I would be at second base. The move wasn't very hard for me. I actually like it a lot. You have a little more time on ground balls and the throw (to first) is shorter. You are still playing up the middle," said Ruth, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 17th round of the 2003 First-Year-Player draft.
"If there was anything difficult, it was turning the double play. That took me a while to get, but through constant repetition in practice, I got the hang of it pretty quickly."
A few schools sent letters of inquiry, but San Diego and Hawaii were the only programs that seriously recruited him.
"I decided I wanted to get away. I felt there would be more exposure for me, more opportunities for me. But Hawaii will always be home for me," Ruth said.
He had a stellar freshman season, hitting .342, one of the all-time top 10 best single-season averages in USD history, and was named to the All-West Coast Conference team. His first collegiate home run came in a game against Houston in Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.
"I just wanted to put up a solid season to prove that I could play at the D-I level. It's a long season with ups and downs. I was fortunate to put up good numbers," Ruth said.
Ruth skipped the sophomore jinx by hitting .338 a year ago, when he led the Toreros with 73 hits. He was a conference honorable-mention selection.
This year his average is up to .293 after a good weekend series against UNLV, a three-game sweep by the 18-10 Toreros.
"If I see something in the zone I like, I'm going to go after it. I like to be aggressive and put a good swing on the ball," Ruth said. "I try not to worry too much about the numbers. Sometimes it is rough, but there is a lot of season left.
"If the ball isn't falling, I want to play good defense or steal a base when I get on or try to take the extra base."
Ruth has been very proficient in the stolen-base department, swiping 36 out of 41 during his career.
"The great thing about Keoni is his maturity. His work ethic has improved so much. He has definitely cut down on his errors and become one of the better second basemen, if not the best, on the West Coast," said USD coach Rich Hill.
"He is very much in control, a quiet leader with our guys. His average may not reflect it this year, but he puts the ball in play. He rarely strikes out (five times this year) or walks (six). The hits will start falling for him."
Ruth is eligible for the draft this June.
When a baseball player is drafted in high school but elects to attend college, his junior year is commonly referred to as his "money year" if he is drafted again.
"There has been interest in Keoni since high school. I don't think he is worried too much about the draft," Hill said. "He is really learning a lot here and everything has to fall into place. He knows the value of an education."
Hill indicated Ruth would probably move back to shortstop if he returns for his senior year.
"I think about the draft, but I don't let that kind of stuff creep into my head too much," Ruth said. "Playing pro is a good opportunity and I would like to do that when that time comes."
Ruth didn't hesitate for a second when asked what the highlight of his college career was to date.
"Sweeping No. 1 Texas this year. That was the biggest highlight ever," Ruth said. "We played in front of big crowds. Everyone doubted us, said we couldn't do it. The feeling after each game was just unbelievable."
The Toreros swept the Longhorns 4-2, 6-0 and 12-8. Ruth was 4-for-11, scored four runs and stole a base.
The win in the opener was the first time the Toreros defeated a No. 1 team.
In the second game, Ruth tripled in the first inning and scored on Justin Snyder's single for the only run the Toreros needed.
The Kamehameha alumnus' statistics for the San Diego Toreros