“This One’s for Briggsy!”
By: Jack Patterson
MTN Sports Reporter
Friday, March 11th, 2022, a day that no one on the MTSU baseball team will ever forget. One might say this because the Blue Raiders had won their first game of a tough road series at Auburn in which outfielder, Nathan Sanders, hit a game sealing two-run homerun. Unfortunately, that is not the main reason this day will be remembered. A more sobering and heart-breaking moment could be described as the real reason, stage four liver cancer causing the death of Karen Rutter. She is the mother of one of the brightest, energetic, positive, and full of life players on the Blue Raiders, sophomore catcher Briggs Rutter.
It was no secret how close Briggs and his mother were. With him growing up an only child, that naturally formed a special bond between the two of them. He and his family lived for baseball, which was something they bonded over quite often. But for them, it went further than bonding over their family sport. Rutter explained that even in her everyday life, she was someone that he looked up to and how she was a role model for him. “She was my best friend, my hero, and my mom all in one. I’m an only child, so the bond we had was something a little more special,” said Rutter. “She was the same person every day. I think that is something that’s hard to do, no matter anything she went through. I’m not even talking about when she was sick, on a day-to-day basis, if she had a bad day, you couldn’t tell. I knew for a fact that was her trying to show me how to live and raise me the right way. No matter what you’re going through, for a lack of a better word, you’ve got to suck it up and go about your business and take care of your battles. She was always there for me and always strong for me.” Further, Rutter explained how she would teach him, especially in her final days, about how to face life’s battles and to show strength in the hardest situations, saying that he never saw her cry about her situation of being sick. “That means a lot to me because I know for a fact that’s a situation you’re going to cry in. She never once showed any emotions of being sad about her situation, she never felt bad for herself. She was the strongest woman that I know. I know everybody says that about their mom, but the strength she showed me and how everyone has their own thing going on is all about how you handle it. She would tell me, ‘win your battle.’ It doesn’t matter the cards you’re dealt, its about how you play them. That is the summary of how she was and what she meant to me looking at her as a rock and seeing how strong she was made me feel comfortable in any battle that I had to face,” he said. Rutter then made a unique allusion about what his mother taught him about facing life’s battles and applying it to his mindset when he is out on the field playing.
“Baseball is probably the most mental game you could ever play. There is plenty of times that you go through struggles. Winning your battle is huge. She was at every baseball game or watching when I got to college if she couldn’t make it. Her telling me, ‘win your battle in life’ also applied to baseball. If you’re a baseball family, you speak baseball, and she definitely spoke baseball. So, winning your battle in life also contributed to winning your battle in baseball. Even when you are going through struggles, you can’t let your emotions take over and when you are going through highs you can’t let your emotions take over. You have to keep winning every day and keep being the same guy day in and day out, and that’s what she was for me. That is all that she stood for,” said Rutter.
He then described the back story of the week that led up to her death and was able to share the emotions he felt during the time that he knew she was not going to make it. As mentioned, Mrs. Rutter passed on a Friday. The team had just got back into town that previous Sunday from a road series at the University of South Alabama. The next day, Rutter said he and the team were going about their usual Monday business, weightlifting, with the mindset of she was going to be okay, make a recovery, and receive chemotherapy. But when Rutter arrived for weights that day, this was sadly not the mindset for very long. “I got to weights on Monday and our trainer came and pulled me out of weights and he said, ‘you need to go to the hospital.’ That’s a scary feeling in any moment. You don’t ever want to get that call. I let out some emotion and then I went to the hospital, and we found out she wasn’t going to make it very much longer and that we were talking in the span of weeks. In that moment, I realized I had to be strong for my dad because he, being from Philly, is a hardcore, northeastern guy and doesn’t like to show his emotions, and I knew that he was hurting.
So, in that moment I kind of switched into what my mom had always been for me, into a rock. I tried to show my emotion when I was alone and by myself because I wanted to keep strong for my dad. I knew he was hurting but I knew he wouldn’t let himself hurt. But I wanted him to let himself,” Rutter explained. When the Rutter family realized that it was getting more towards the end of Mrs. Rutter’s time, she was moved to a hospice. In those next few days, Briggs said he purposely took the night shift to be with her and look after her and was able to share his special, final moments he was able to have with her. “I wanted a chance to have some alone time with her during the night. Because during the day we had all of our friends coming in to say goodbye, and a lot of people were saying goodbye. So, it was busy during the day.
I took care of her during the day as well, but I also tried to sleep and tried to do some schoolwork. Then during the night, I was able to just sit with her. I would hold her hand for hours. I told her everything I needed her to hear, kind of my goodbye. She was in a confused state because she was really sick. She couldn’t really respond but I knew she could hear what I was saying so I just told her how great of a mother she had been and went into detail about all of that with her and made sure she heard it. Then, that Friday, she was really sick that morning and then she passed. In that moment, you break down and I certainly did,” said Rutter.
This was the moment where Rutter told exactly what happened during the moments of her passing, a “cool story” in his words. “When she passed, she was struggling. We knew she was getting ready to go. She looked up towards the ceiling, but not in a hurting way. She was looking at something coming down. My family is religious, and we believe in God. So, she was looking up at something at the ceiling, like looking at something, kind of studying it a little bit. It was the most conscious I had seen her look in a couple days. Then she immediately looks down and looks right at me, and she says, ‘go.’ She hadn’t really been able to talk much, and she looked at me and said, ‘go,’ as in, ‘leave the room.’ So, I told my dad that she told me to go, and I walked out of the room, and she passed about as soon as I walked out of the room, so I wasn’t actually there in the moment that she passed away. But the way we took that and the way I explained it to my family was, she saw somebody coming down to get her and she didn’t want me to see her in that moment because she knows that would have affected me. I think that is something special that happened. Someone told her, ‘its time to take you home.’ After she passed, I stayed in the room with her for about five minutes. It hurts to lose somebody but at the end of the day we know she is not in pain anymore and she is in a better place, and I know she is watching everything,” explained Rutter. He went on to share how he then called the team’s trainer, Micah Rimmer, and informed him of the news and said it was at Rimmer’s discretion to tell the rest of the team. Rimmer decided to do so, about 30 minutes before the first pitch in their game at Auburn. With that being a tough road series win for the Blue Raiders, the team told Rutter that every moment they had how hard they played all weekend was all for his mother. He further
described how his mother grew up an Alabama Crimson Tide fan and hated Auburn, so the fact that the team beat them was even more special.
Since Rutter and the rest of his family “eat, sleep, and breathe” the game of baseball, one might think he used it as a coping mechanism to help get his mind off such a heavy situation. Rutter said that in that moment of her death and in the few days that followed, baseball was not on his mind. He said that it was more about being there for his dad and the rest of his family, and more importantly, allowing themselves to mourn Mrs. Rutter’s passing. Even the day he got back to the team from being away, he still felt her presence. That day was the same day as Mrs. Rutter’s funeral. Later that night, the team played a home game against Austin Peay, a game in which they won in walk off style. “That was awesome, and everything kind of felt surreal. My dad put my mom’s favorite blanket on her seat in the stands and obviously when I saw that I just tried to hold it together. Just being there was releasing and made me remember my mom. One of the coolest parts of that night was the awesome sunset over Floyd Stadium. I think when you see sunsets after you lose somebody, it’s their way of speaking to you. She looked beautiful up there and that was one of the coolest parts for me and she was watching that game,” said Rutter. He then described what it was like during his first at bat since his mother’s death.
In a home game against Old Dominion, just nine days after that tragic day, Rutter connected on a pinch-hit single. “That was kind of the moment I felt it really hit. I felt her with me at the plate. I can’t really describe it, I blacked out. I was told later on that the fans gave a heavy ovation, and I didn’t notice that in the moment. When I got in the box, and this sounds cliché, but I heard my mom in her voice say, ‘You got this son,’ and I got a pitch that I liked and hit it into center field. I got to first base and that is when it all flooded to me. As soon as I rounded first base, I pointed up to the sky because that is my way of showing her that everything is for her,” he said. He then told of how he was able to get that exact ball back, and he wrote a note on it saying, “I love you mom,” and he keeps that ball in his locker to this day. Rutter went on to further describe the support he felt following the hit and how he, in a way, uses baseball to help express his emotions. “The boys have been unreal with their support for it. I feel the support. Everybody in the dugout came out and coach Toman came sprinting out and he was the first to give me a high five. For me now, there is a lot more to play for. She was a baseball mom and she watched me play since I was four years old, so it is tough playing without her. There’s certainly that sort of emotion where you look up in the stands or you come in after the game and you’re used to your mom being there and she’s not. But at the same time, she’s got the best seats in the house. She’s watching and she’s comfortable, and that’s all you could really want for your mom after all that she went through. It’s hard but baseball is definitely the way I speak through my emotions. It definitely is a getaway for me now, but it’s a getaway to an emotional spot. I can’t ever play without thinking about her, but it’s my happy place being out here because some of our greatest memories were travelling all over the country for baseball. I love her and always will, so the fact that I get to play baseball for her now means a lot and there’s a lot to play for,” explained Rutter.
Anyone who has been on a sports team, especially in college, knows how close the players and the coaching staff often get. Such is the case with the Blue Raiders. Rutter said he felt their support through the entire process of the days leading up to his mother’s death and also in the days that followed. On the day of her passing, a few of the players even broke the regular “no phones in the dugout” rule and texted Rutter saying they had him on their minds and that they were praying for him. He then shared what he called, “probably the coolest but also really emotional part of the whole deal.” Even with the team having a game the same day as Mrs. Rutter’s funeral, every single teammate and coach made the two hour round trip. He said that even a few of his teammates’ professors told them they had to attend class, and they came to the funeral instead, and this also meant a ton to him. They stayed for both the visitation and the entire service, a good three to three and half hours. “I think what helped me stay strong through that day was having my boys there and being able to look them in the eyes and know that I’ve got a family. I told them that when they came, that was the first time I had smiled all day. You feel the family aspect of what a college baseball team really is. Some of the boys cried more than I did and that spoke to me that these guys care for me and they care for my family. When we eventually carried her out, I had six of my best friends, my brothers on this team, be the pallbearers for her. There was nobody else I’d rather do that than the guys I spend seven hours a day on the field with. It was extremely emotional and that was probably the point where I broke down a little bit, but at the same time it was unreal support, and you just feel that. It’s a surreal feeling,” said Rutter. He even mentioned that a catcher from last year’s team who he viewed as one of his mentors, Jake Hagenow, was in attendance. He went on to further describe the deeper comradery that he has felt from his teammates in the days of him getting back in his everyday routine, saying that several of the guys have reached out to him to check on him and constantly let him know they are there for him. “There’s going to be days where I have tough days. They have offered in any situation that I am feeling down to come give me a hug and just hold me and let me tell them everything I need to say, and I have done it a couple times. My roommates, Fausto Lopez, and Mason Speirs, I have just sat in the living room with them and have opened up about everything. It was a bit of a traumatic experience even though I don’t like to think about it that way. But they have just let me open up. The embracing they have done for me makes me feel less alone in this situation. If I didn’t have a baseball team behind me, this would have been a lot harder. I have a group of 50 guys here that have all offered if I need to just come sit down and talk about it, I can. Every single one of these guys have told me they’re there for me, which means more to me than they’ll ever know. Coach Toman has been unreal, and he gave me the biggest hug at the funeral and just held me there. He had the boys break it down on, “For Briggsy” every time we played in those days after. I feel like I’m never alone. The coaches have also offered that to my dad and have given him words of courage in this time. From our family to my baseball family, the thankfulness for what they’ve done has been unreal in the hardest time in my life,” he said.
One of the more special moments of the season for the Blue Raiders occurred in an away matchup against UAB. In this game, Rutter made his first start since the day of his mother’s passing. In his second at bat of the game, he blasted a solo homerun to left field. With it being his first start since that tragic day and with him hitting that homerun, he described how he felt during the game and how he could feel his mother there with him. “That one was probably even more of a surreal moment than the hit against Old Dominion. A first start back is definitely tough, you’re engaged in the whole game, and mom always watched the whole game. But in that moment, I felt her with me again and that whole game really, I felt her with me. I wanted to hit, and I wanted to do something for her. I hit it and I knew it was gone when I hit it. I started rounding the bases and once again kind of blacked out a little bit. In my head I kept repeating, ‘that was for you,’ talking to my mom. Then I rounded third and I saw the fellas going crazy and that made me really emotional. So, I beat my chest twice and pointed up and looked up to her and made sure she knew I was acknowledging her. I think she could feel me acknowledging her, but I wanted her to know. That was in her home state too. Some of her family was actually there in the stands to watch that. That was the hardest I had ever stomped on the plate, that was a lot of emotion for me. Everything that I’m doing now, any success that I do have, God willing, is all
for my mom. You don’t want to think in the negative light about it like, ‘you just lost your mom.’ You want to stay positive about it and say, ‘you lost your mom, but all of this is for her, and I know she’s watching.’ So once again, in that moment and rounding those bases, it was all just, ‘this is all for you.’ That was how I went about it and that is why that emotion hit me and that is why I came around third like that. That is going to be a memory in my mind for a very long time,” said Rutter as his parting thoughts.
As previously mentioned, on that tragic day, the Blue Raiders coaching staff and players were informed of Mrs. Rutter’s death during their pre-game warm-ups before playing at Auburn. “I knew how close Briggsy was with her,” said head coach Jim Toman. “I went through that with both of my parents as well. It is just a hard thing to take and understand and process. I just tried to get the staff and the team behind him and there for him and know that we loved him.” Upon hearing the tragic news, coach Toman and the rest of the team broke their pre-game routines to send their thoughts towards Briggs and the rest of the Rutter family. “Immediately the guys got together and prayed for Briggsy and his family, and then we got together right before the game and prayed again as a team. It was kind of a reminder to everyone that you never know how long you’re going to live and to love your family, your brothers, your sisters, and teammates. Even to call your parents and tell them you love them. The guys were moved by it and everyone’s heart just went out to Briggsy,” said Toman.
As Mrs. Rutter’s days were counting down, Briggs was told to go and be with his family. Coach Toman and the rest of the Blue Raider staff told him that he could be away as long as he needed to be and even contacted Briggs’ professors for him to inform them of where he was at. “I told him if he needed a week, or two, or three, whatever he needs, family always comes first. We said to take all the time he needed, but he was not gone for very long. Sometimes it is good to be around your teammates and friends and people that love you and to feed off of them,” he said. When Toman said that Rutter was not gone for very long, he was not kidding. As previously mentioned, the day of Mrs. Rutter’s funeral was the following Tuesday of her passing, March 15th. The entire Blue Raider team and coaching staff was in attendance to be there for Rutter and the rest of his family even with them having their game against Austin Peay later that day. “We decided as a team that we have to be there for him. I am probably the toughest coach in America, but I can’t handle funerals. There were definitely a few tears shed. But after the funeral, he came, and he was in the dugout that day. I was a little surprised but after the game in the huddle, we told him ‘this was for her,’” said Toman. Even in the midst of mourning his mother’s death and being told to take all the time he needs, Rutter showed the type of amazing player and teammate that everyone knows he is by coming and being amongst his team for the game.
In Rutter’s short time away from the team, coach Toman described that even in the midst of the regular, everyday grind of the team, with practice, games, scouting reports, and attending classes, he and the rest of the Rutter family was always on everyone’s mind. “In that situation, he’s always in your thoughts and your prayers. We were always thinking about him. It’s been a tough deal for him and the team, but I think it brought us a little closer together,” he said. Toman further explained how he and the rest of the team have even felt her absence. “Anytime something like that happens, it’s a very sensitive thing. Briggsy and her had a great relationship, and she was at all the games. There is definitely a seat up there in the stands isn’t occupied anymore. You look up there and its not a fun thing to think about. But I’m sure with Briggsy, being a strong Christian, understands that she is looking down on us.”
With all that Rutter has been through this season, coach Toman explained how much he and the rest of the team have loved watching him succeed anytime he gets in to play since his mother’s passing. “You just pull for a guy like that. He is a good teammate and a good kid who’s been through a lot, so you want him to do well. He is getting back to where he was last fall and he’s had a heck of a semester. I am just extremely happy for him and anytime I get him in to play I want him to do well as his coach knowing what he’s been through,” were Toman’s final words. With that being said, Rutter has done nothing but succeed at the plate, with a red-hot batting average of .357 (five for 14) since his mother’s passing.
One of the members of the Blue Raiders coaching staff that Rutter has grown particularly close with is hitting coach, Jordan Getzelman. Coach Getzelman described what it was like for him personally to learn of the tragic news of Mrs. Rutter’s passing and observe Briggs mourn. “I think its incredibly hard to watch somebody go through suffering like that, especially someone you are close with. That is the beauty and downfall of college baseball. Everybody is so close that you feel each other’s pain, but I think the bright side of it is that we are there for each other. I knew just how much pain it had caused him, but for me the beauty of it is that he was going to have a community when he came back. It certainly was hard to watch and still is to this day. That sort of grief doesn’t go away quickly but I was excited to get him back and in our doors so he could feel some sense of normalcy again,” he said.
During the time in which Mrs. Rutter’s death was nearing and after the fact of it happening, coach Getzelman explained that he tried to be there for Rutter in any way he could, whether that meant periodically checking in on him, making sure he was okay, and that if Rutter needed to talk to anyone at any time, he was a good source to come to. “I think as a coach, you have a unique relationship with a guy where you’re trying to develop them as players, but as people as well. As in the game of baseball, you just see a lot of life happen to guys and I think every chance you get, there is an opportunity to learn from stuff, and I honestly did a lot of learning from him in watching him go through this and how strong he was. I just tried to check on him, continued to be there for him, and be that soundboard for him and to give him perspective. With him being a Christian, we would talk about the fact that the Lord was with him, and that God wanted him to have some heavenly peace to understand that his mom has a seat in heaven. I think sharing that together was refreshing for him,” said Getzelman.
Because of how close coach Getzelman and Rutter are, the emotions were very high for him when he learned of Mrs. Rutter’s death. He explained how her death happened in a fast manner and how that added to the poignancy of the situation. “I think the best word to describe it is just, heavy. The way it kind of went down, it happened very fast. There was a roller coaster of things,” said Getzelman. “There was optimism at times, and then at other times it seemed to go much quicker than expected and so for me, there was just a heavy feeling because we are so close as a team that you feel the emotions of what he must be going through at that time. I love my mom and so in an empathetic way I could not imagine being in that spot. So, the heaviness came over me. I actually got to talk to him that night and he was in such a positive mindset. He was so confident that she had a seat in heaven and that she was pain free at that moment. We were able to get that win at Auburn on that Friday, so the heaviness kind of turned into a sense of purpose for that game. The heaviness turned into something we could use moving forward and that sense of purpose of knowing we had a teammate to carry that night. We had a little extra help with his mom being there with us. That was a really cool thing to come out on the other side of it,” he said.
One of the things that coach Getzelman emphasized was just how much he considers it a privilege to coach such a special a player and person like Rutter. “Briggs is a great kid. He is a great person, and he has a passion for baseball. He is a craftsman and goes about his work very diligently. You can tell he cares a lot what he’s doing at the plate. He cares about his teammates. He’s fun and enjoys being at the field and I think he brings a positive energy with him that is infectious. In any aspect of life, you want someone to bring that energy to you and I think he is that guy. As a baseball player he has so many different physical tools that he brings to the team but on top of that I think he has a great head on his shoulders and is able to contribute to who we are in the character of our team. I think beyond the physical attributes, he contributes to a lot of wins as well with the mental presence that he brings,” explained Getzelman.
Even though coach Getzelman did not know Mrs. Rutter personally, he described how learning about her and the Rutter family through the process of the funeral and seeing Briggs mourn was an eye opener to just how special of a person she was and how that shaped him into the person he is today. “She seemed like such a kind human. Her funeral was just such a celebration of people that have been impacted by her and the impactful energy that she brought to this life. I would say Briggs does the same thing and to see his strength and the charisma that he brought to the people that needed him the most at that time was a strong reflection of the values that she brought to him and the relationship that they had. I could tell in those following days that God was shining her attributes through him,” he said.
Since coach Getzelman also serves as the third base coach for the team, he is right there for every time someone rounds third base when they hit a homerun. As mentioned above, two of the more memorable moments of the season for the Blue Raiders was Rutter’s single in his first at bat since Mrs. Rutters death, and his homerun in their series at UAB just a week later. Getzelman described just how emotional these moments were. “He got his pinch hit here against Old Dominion. You saw him get in the box and the crowd understood the heaviness of that moment. For me, I had a huge smile on my face and was just so happy that he could get back to that sense of normalcy in his life and carry on his mom’s legacy. But then he got the hit, and I was trying to give the next sign to our pinch runner we had come in. I had my sunglasses on thankfully because I was tearing up. I had not had a moment as a coach like that, as emotional as that was. I think it was a culmination of things just knowing how much pain he had gone through but for me I could really just see him happy and ready to show the world that his mom was going to live through him. I talked to him after and he said, ‘I knew something good was going to happen.’ And then the home run was just a continuation of that, watching him go around the bases and the guys celebrating with him. That is just heavy life stuff. I’m an emotional person but typically its not on the baseball field, and so to see that, it brought it out in all of us and I am just so happy that he is a part of this team. It was just cool to see this little community rally around him for those moments and its hard not to be emotional for that,” said Getzelman as his final thoughts.
Rutter’s ultimate goal is to carry on his mother’s legacy and honor her through anything he does continuing forward, whether in the classroom, on the field, or in everyday life. The Blue Raiders baseball team and coaching staff look to help him accomplish this for the remainder of their season and dedicate their success to her. In the words of coach Toman, “This one’s for Briggsy!”