Max Rutherford is a student at Orillia Secondary School by day, and on evenings and weekends he is one of Orillia’s top baseball prospects.
The 16-year old Rutherford started playing baseball when he was three and immediately fell in love with the game; he has dedicated much of his life to perfecting his craft.
“It’s always been really time-consuming and I haven’t really had time for any other sports. Baseball is really the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” Rutherford said.
Growing up, when Rutherford wasn’t at a game or a practice he could be found in an empty ballpark hitting off a tee or running through drills, working tirelessly to improve his skills.
His work ethic paid off early, becoming one of the top pitchers in Orillia Legion Minor Baseball (OLMB). He became known for his ability to put movement on the ball, and hiding his pitches.
Rutherford was often the biggest kid on his teams, making him a natural power hitter. His talent contributed to the Orillia Royals winning the U-11 Provincial Championship in 2014.
Rutherford and the Royals won their league championship five years in a row, and added another provincial championship in 2017.
“That’s when I realized I wanted to take this more seriously. I was already having a high amount of success at a young age and wanted to see how far I could take it,” Rutherford said.
After an incredible six-year run with OLMB, Rutherford wanted to take his game to the next level.
“When I got to the age of 13-14, I wanted to start looking at playing college baseball and I realized that I needed to move on from the Orillia Royals,” Rutherford explains.
During his Grade 8 year, Rutherford was given an opportunity to join the Lake Simcoe Nationals who are a U-16 traveling team headquartered out of Barrie. He’s been training and playing with the Nationals for the past three years.
“It’s been a great experience and through that program, I’ve been given the opportunity to play for some universities in the States,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford has since been invited to prospect camps at the University of Illinois, the University of Richmond and a few other Division III schools. This past August, Rutherford joined Wagner College in New York City.
“The experience I had in New York was unbelievable,” Rutherford said.
“It’s hard to put into words when you’ve been working really hard to get to a certain point and then you finally get to a spot where you can play in a professional stadium and be surrounded by a great level of talent," he explained.
It was an eye-opening experience for Rutherford, to see all his work pay off, and his dreams of playing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) baseball being within his grasp.
“I realized that this could really happen, I could really do this. It’s my opportunity to pursue my dreams and it’s a chance that other kids I know aren’t getting,” Rutherford said humbly.
Rutherford continues to earn more opportunities to play in front of college coaches and scouts in the States seemingly every time he takes to the mound, but he says none of it would be possible without getting his start with OLMB.
“Playing in Orillia matured me. I played with the same young men that I grew up with and I had the same coach all the way through,” he said.
The coach Rutherford referenced is Wes Winkel, someone Rutherford feels he owes a big part of his early success to.
“Wes Winkel was my biggest supporter and the biggest reason why I am where I am today,“ Rutherford said.
“He gave me everything a young kid needed to mature into a sport. He gave us all the technique, the mindset, and all the fundamentals of the game.”
Rutherford admits he would be a totally different player if he never had Winkel as his coach growing up. Rutherford says Winkel prepared him well for his pursuit of playing college baseball and playing in front of coaches and scouts.
“Growing up, Wes always put me in high-pressure situations, so I kind of got used to it,” Rutherford said.
In July, Rutherford will be representing Canada in the Northeast National Showcase in New Jersey.
Being invited to the event recognizes Rutherford as one of the top prospects in Canada. There will be personnel from 95 North American colleges at the two-day showcase, and Rutherford will have a Division I NCAA coach watching him closely, and creating a scouting report.
“When I was told I would be representing my country at the showcase I freaked out a bit, I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless,” Rutherford said.
“It’s something I’ve been working hard at 24/7 and to finally get some big exposure and seeing the hard work paying off, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Rutherford is preparing daily for his big opportunities, all while rehabbing a shoulder injury suffered this past July when he was pitching in front of scouts in Ohio.
“I noticed some scouts watching me with the radar gun, so I decided to try and push my arm's limits and I suffered for that after,” Rutherford explains.
“I could feel my arm was getting a little tired and sore, I was missing my spots and that’s when my body was telling me 'Alright Max you need to go sit down.' But I pushed it and wanted to keep my numbers up, wanted that one extra inning, one extra pitch until it was too late.”
It was a tough lesson for Rutherford to learn about pushing his own limits and how it can seriously alter the rest of his baseball career.
“Now I know to really listen to my body and tell myself when I need to stop,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford’s tough learning experience is something that will make him more conscious as he continues to push towards his dreams of playing NCAA baseball, and his ultimate dream of getting drafted by a major league club.
“I have to stay determined, work hard but stay smart as well and not hurt myself like I did in Ohio, then I will have a good chance at achieving my dreams,” he said.
If Rutherford fails to achieve his ultimate goal, he’s making sure it won’t be due to a lack of passion and work ethic.
“I have the drive to play college baseball. I have a really good set of grades that are definitely improving this year. I’ve had a good start to my semester and I want to keep that rolling,” Rutherford said.