TAMPA — A year ago at this time, Blake Rutherford was displaying high-end skills that had him projected to be a first-round pick. And not knowing that life was going to present him with a terrifying experience.
Scouts drooled over the 6-foot-3, 195-pound lefty-swinging center fielder from Simi Valley, Calif., as Rutherford starred for Chaminade College Prep. Already committed to UCLA, Rutherford waited for the MLB draft in June, when Rutherford would be selected by the Yankees, his favorite team, with the 18th pick.
But on the way to church with his mother, Julie, on the morning of May 8 — Mother’s Day — the phone chirped with news nobody wants to hear.
Rutherford’s father, Roy, was involved in a head-on automobile collision in Simi Valley that took the life of the other driver and delivered severe damage to the father of two, who was Blake’s coach for almost as long as he had played baseball.
“It was coming down to the draft and there were a lot of emotions, and at that time you are feeling good about your future, and then you realize just how quickly life can change,’’ the 19-year-old said Monday at the Yankees’ minor league complex, where Single-A Charleston played the Phillies’ Lakewood club. “That moment, even though he was lucky enough to survive, it was a life-changing moment for my family. There has been a lot of recovery stuff he has had to go through, and he’s still rehabbing. He’s in good spirits now, but it definitely humbles you. And you can never take life for granted. Always tell your loved ones you love them every opportunity you get.’’
Roy Rutherford fractured a hip, dislocated and broke a toe, has no feeling in his left ankle and lost part of a pinkie. He walks with a cane. Rutherford talks to his dad twice a day, and the hope is that having not seen his son play since the crash, Roy will be able to do that this season.
As Blake worried about his father,…