Setting the bar: LaGrange College’s Joe Ruth continues to break records

Published 8:45 am Saturday, April 1, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Breaking records is not a foreign concept to LaGrange College baseball player Joe Ruth. The fifth-year senior broke the single season hit record for NCAA Division III a season ago with 109 and broke the LaGrange College hit record of 274 over a week ago. 

He continues to reset the record game after game.

“When I first came here, I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t scared and a little bit nervous,” Ruth said. “Looking back to where I was when I got here, I could never imagine breaking the school record for hits.”

Ruth is never one to be concerned with individual accolades and achievements, he wants the team to have success, knowing everything else will fall into place. Getting a taste of the Division III College World Series in Cedar Rapids a season ago made Ruth hungry for team success this year. 

“We have to realize that this team has not done anything, and we have to make our own identity as a team,” Ruth said. “We are starting to find some rhythm and figure out our strengths and weaknesses.”

This team has some turnover from the historic season the Panthers put together a season ago. With so many departing leaders, Ruth has had to step into even more of a leadership role this year. 

The Panthers have taken their lumps early with the season featuring highs and lows as a long season will typically feature. But Ruth sees progress in their ranks and that is what is all about as they head into the home stretch of the season. 

“We have been on a bit of a hot streak the last month and a half,” Ruth said. “As we head to the back half of the season, we have to build on that.”

Ruth could be heading into the final stretch of games at LaGrange College. He is unsure of whether or not he will return for his sixth and final year of eligibility. It has to make sense for him athletically and academically. As he mulls his options, he is not ready for a curtain call on his time at LaGrange College yet but as he looks back on his first five years as a Panther, he realizes how quickly the days, months and years went by. 

Regardless of whether or not this is the final run as a Panther for Ruth, being a LaGrange College student-athlete has meant everything to him the last few years. 

“We live in a world where it is Division I or bust and when I reflect on my time here at LaGrange I think about how important it is to find a school that is the best fit for you as a student-athlete, it doesn’t matter if it’s big or small,” Ruth said. “To come here and be a part of this institution and this program means the world to me. I have given everything I have to this program and this school, and it has returned the favor.”

Ruth plans to try his hands at semi-pro of professional baseball but knows his time swinging a bat competitively are likely numbered. This makes his final stretch at LaGrange College bittersweet, but it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for Ruth who is looking to stay involved with the game after he hangs up the cleats. 

“I would love to get into a coaching career and take the memories and lessons I learned here and pass that on to the next generation,” Ruth said. 

The guidance and reassurance that coach David Kelton has provided Ruth over the years has encouraged him to find his own path. When Ruth first arrived at LaGrange College, he knew he wanted to play baseball but never thought about life after he had to give up playing. Kelton has helped Ruth find his purpose.

“Coach Kelton has helped me so much on the field but it is everything that he has done off the field that means so much to me,” Ruth said. “He wants to mold good men for the community. He does everything to a championship standard. The lessons he has taught me has inspired me to want to give those lessons to next generation of kids coming through.”

Ruth is not done with the Panthers yet. Even if he does not return for a sixth season, he will topple even more LaGrange College records over the coming weeks, forever etching himself into LaGrange College lore. 

“I know when my time here is done that I will never stop being a LaGrange College baseball player,” Ruth said.