8-year-old learns responsibility and love for baseball as a bat boy

Third-grader Griffin Ruiter tends bats and balls for the Gophers baseball team.

Eight-year-old Griffin Ruiter hangs his Gophers uniform in his locker in the Gophers clubhouse Saturday at the Metrodome.  Ruiter serves at the team's bat boy.

Mark Vancleave

Eight-year-old Griffin Ruiter hangs his Gophers uniform in his locker in the Gophers clubhouse Saturday at the Metrodome. Ruiter serves at the team's bat boy.

Samuel Gordon

At 8 years old, Griffin Ruiter has a full-time job and is a part of a Division I college baseball team.

Talk about having a leg up on your peers.

Griffin is the Gophers’ main bat boy. He’s shy but more focused than a lot of kids his age and performs important tasks to help the team.

He has his own locker in the clubhouse, dresses in uniform for every home contest and helps keep up the pace of play during games.

He works from the team’s bench and brings Gophers players’ bats to the dugout after their plate appearances. In between innings, he runs foul balls back to the umpire. Win or lose, Griffin is in the handshake line after the game and in walk-off wins — like Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Northwestern — he’s out on the field amid the hysterical celebration.

Every year, the Minnesota baseball program gets inquiries on behalf of dozens of kids regarding the bat boy position, according to Gophers head coach John Anderson.

“Usually it’s somebody that somebody knows or the sons of the coaches,” Anderson said.

This year is no different. Anderson and Brad Ruiter, Griffin’s  father, have known each other for almost two decades.

Brad Ruiter worked in the University of Minnesota athletics office, primarily with Gophers baseball, from 1993 to 2000 before accepting a job with the Minnesota Twins, where he worked for six years.

The elder Ruiter said he bumped into Anderson a couple years ago, and casual conversation spawned into talks of Griffin being a bat boy.

“Griffin was with me. It might have been a University event, and we talked about it real casually at the time,” Brad Ruiter said.

 “We traded some emails before last season, and that’s kind of how it started.”

Shortly thereafter, Griffin was confirmed as the bat boy for 2012.

Being the bat boy certainly has its perks, but it’s no cakewalk, and Griffin isn’t paid for it.

“You’ve got to come in and do your job. It’s not just a fun time,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to pay attention, work with the umpires and get the bats and do all the things you’re supposed to do.”

Griffin’s job requires him to be at the park at least an hour early. When he arrives at the ballpark, he gets dressed and joins the team out on the field.

If he gets to the park early enough, he plays catch with his father to hone his own abilities.

Anderson spoke highly of Griffin’s professionalism and said, “He’s paid attention and done his job. He hasn’t fallen asleep on us over there.

“That tells you a little bit about him and the type of kid he is and his ability to focus for that long.”

In turn, he’s learned on the job plenty of good habits.

“[He’s learned] responsibility, being organized, picking up after himself,” Brad Ruiter said. “He’s learned a lot of things here that we can’t teach him.”

Griffin is the latest in a long line of Gophers bat boys. Junior relief pitcher Billy Soule worked as a bat boy in his younger years.

“You still feel like you’re part of the team,” Soule said. He said his time with Minnesota — long before he pitched on scholarship for them — was memorable.

“Being young and being around that, once you get here and play you definitely want to keep that going.”

Soule also said Griffin brings a lighthearted approach to the game and helps keep the team loose and relaxed.

Griffin’s favorite thing about the job is “just to be around the team,” but when he’s not working with the club, he makes sure to keep busy.

He is a full-time third-grade student at Glacier Hills Elementary School in Eagan, Minn.

On Wednesday, however, Griffin’s bat-boy duties will supersede his education and for the first time, he’ll miss school for work.

He participates in a number of extracurricular activities, too, and is involved in programs at the local YMCA.

 His own athletic endeavors include baseball, soccer and basketball, but baseball is his favorite sport, Griffin said.

“[I started liking baseball] in about first grade, I think,” he said. In an interview, he chose not to say much more, often shyly deferring to his father.

Primarily a third-baseman, Griffin Ruiter plays all over the diamond, and though he’s unsure about playing college baseball in the future, Anderson and Soule both said his current gig could help him in his playing career.

“Hopefully he can learn something by being here to help him in his playing career however far it takes him,” Anderson said.

“I hope it will help create some passion for him and the game.”