Every summer, Hays Larks manager Frank Leo is tasked with getting a roster full of new players from around the country to grasp what it means to be a Lark.
Ryan Ruder is one player who needed no introduction.
The Thomas More Prep-Marian product and current Fort Hays State pitcher has followed the Larks closely from an early age.
"It's awesome playing for the Larks," Ruder said. "Growing up, I always came out here with my family. It's a great atmosphere to be around. Great place to play summer ball."
Ruder's experience with the Larks is off to a strong start. The left hander was a bright spot in Hays' 5-1 loss to the El Dorado Broncos on Friday at Larks Park, tossing four scoreless innings in relief.
"He was outstanding," Leo said. "Ryan gave us a chance to win that ball game."
Ruder entered in the top of the third after Larks starter Nick Skeffington struggled to find the zone, giving up three runs in the second frame. Ruder got the Larks out of a jam in the third and would work around five hits to keep the Larks within striking distance throughout the game.
"I tried to hit my spots and the defense played well behind me," Ruder said. "They saved me a few times."
Ruder is coming off his sophomore season with Fort Hays, going 4-9 with a 7.00 ERA. He was FHSU's top pitcher as the Tigers struggled to a 13-37 mark.
"I thought it went all right," Ruder said of his sophomore year. "There were a few games that could have gone different. I tried to control what I could and sometimes it just didn't work out. Just got to work this summer to get better for next year."
Ruder said he's eager to see new FHSU head coach Jerod Goodale put his stamp on the program. Goodale, a Hays native and former Tiger, was hired last week after spending seven sevens as head coach at Colorado School of Mines.
"I'm excited to meet the new coach," Ruder said. "Really looking forward to seeing what he brings to the program."
After FHSU baseball's rough season, Ruder said he was looking forward to spending the summer with a Larks team primed for a successful season.
"It's a lot more fun coming out here and winning and expecting to win," Ruder said.
The Larks' lineup struggled to get going against El Dorado pitcher Daniel Nelson, who gave the Broncos seven strong innings. Clayton Rasbeary drove in the Larks' lone run with an RBI single in the sixth.
The Larks (5-2) were outhit 13-8 and were victims to a few standout defensive plays from the Broncos.
"Outstanding defense on their part," Leo said of the Broncos. "They made some big plays. Third baseman makes a backhand play on a ball down the line when we have men on base. Second baseman made two or three big plays to turn them into double plays.
"Their defense was outstanding tonight and their pitcher never gave us a chance. He threw strikes, he found the zone. You've got to tip your hat to that ball club."