Living the Dream

Big Red baseball alum graduates to professional ranks
Cole Rutherford ’17
Friday, June 30, 2017

Cole Rutherford ’17, who played his first professional baseball innings as a Padres team member on Saturday, credits the ILR School with helping him learn about what goes on behind the scenes in sports.

“Three classes stick out  -- ‘Sports Psychology’ with Assistant Professor Emily Zitek, ‘The Economics of Sports’ with Professor Larry Kahn and ‘Workers Rights as Human Rights’ with Professor James Gross,” he said in an interview.

Gross’s class “really opened my eyes” to minor league player work life, said Rutherford, who signed June 22 with the Padres for a position on its rookie team. “Now, I’m out here doing it firsthand.”

"That class, and the opportunity to take other sports-related classes, helped me to understand what to expect when I started playing."

ILR’s curriculum, featuring a number of sports management and related courses, “is part of the reason I chose ILR. It fit my interests. It jumped out at me that I would be able to take courses on what I wanted to learn about.”

Training and playing seven days a week in temperatures of 100 and higher, Rutherford is based at the Padres’ spring training facility in Peoria, Ariz.

Just a few months ago, he was playing first base in 30-degree weather at Cornell and sometimes contacting ILR professors when his Big Red baseball schedule clashed with class time.

Professors were understanding, he said, and some of them attended his home games.

Faculty support “made it a lot easier, but it was definitely still challenging, getting back at 2 or 3 a.m. from a game on the road and having an 8 a.m. class.”

“You're exhausted and there's snow on the ground, making it a struggle to get to class. But, you do it anyways, because that is what it takes to be a Cornell athlete."

Rutherford, whose season continues through September, is meeting people from across the globe. “I’m getting to know coaches and teammates from all over the world. There is so much diversity in professional baseball.”

Rutherford transferred as a junior to ILR from Orange Coast Community College in his native state of California. He credits his parents, Roy and Julie Rutherford, for much of his success, along with his brother, Blake Rutherford, who plays for the Yankees on its Charleston, S.C., team.

“I’m his biggest fan, and he’s my biggest fan. When we were home, we were extremely competitive. I don’t think I would be here without him.”