For former Hart pitcher and current UCLA Bruin Jack Ralston, Tuesday was a day that will be ingrained in his memory forever.
Ralston was selected in the 2019 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals with the No. 215 pick in the seventh round.
“I was kind of speechless. I was so excited, it’s been my dream since I was a kid,” Ralston told The Signal. “Seeing my name on the TV was kind of a surreal experience.”
After redshirting his freshman year at UCLA, Ralston struggled to get playing time. He did not see the field in his first two seasons, then made nine starts in his third year, pitching 36.1 total innings and amassing a 1-4 record with 18 strikeouts.
Despite the early struggles, the 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher didn’t give up and continued to put in the work to get better. The hard work paid off and Ralston erupted this year, going 11-1 with 107 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.55 in 16 starts so far this season.
“It definitely wasn’t easy not playing for two years. It was tough, especially mentally, but I think it was also a motivating factor to where I knew I had to work hard if I wanted to play,” Ralston said. “I think just working hard, getting stronger, being able to throw harder, I think that really pushed me to where I am today.”
Jim Ozella, who coached Ralston at Hart, praised his perseverance.
“In this day and age of college athletics a lot of guys would have left, would have quit or gone somewhere else. He believed in coach (John) Savage, he believed that he was going to get better and he kept sticking with the plan,” Ozella said. “That’s something that we don’t see in today’s world and that’s much credit to Jack.”
Ralston was a three-year varsity player at Hart, racking up an undefeated 7-0 record in nine starts as a junior with an ERA of 1.16 in 2014.
In Ralston’s senior campaign, he went 7-3 in 12 starts with an ERA of 2.06. Along with fellow pitcher Paul Richan, who was drafted last year by the Chicago Cubs, he helped lead the Indians to the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 championship game in 2015.
“You are talking about a guy who was outstanding for us, he led us to the CIF championship game. Him and Paul were the one-two punch,” Ozella said. “Paul got drafted last year and Jack followed him up this year. Seeing him and Paul matching up, Cardinals and Cubs down the road, that would be sweet.”
“Playing for coach Ozella at Hart, I had a great experience, he’s such a great coach,” Ralston said. “He cares about his players. He’s always pushing me to get better so I really appreciate that.”
Behind Ralston’s reliable pitching, UCLA earned a No. 1 seed in the 2019 NCAA baseball tournament. The Bruins have advanced to the Super Regional against the Michigan Wolverines, which begins this Friday in Los Angeles. The winner of the best-of-three series will advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
Junior pitcher Ryan Garcia will likely open the series on Friday and Ralston will pitch on Saturday in either a win-and-advance scenario or a win-and-extend the series situation.
Though Ralston was able to live out his childhood dream on Tuesday, he knows there is still work to be done. Before he starts his professional career, there’s unfinished business to take care of this weekend and beyond in the NCAA playoffs.
“I think we just have to keep being ourselves, don’t try to do too much. We’ve been pretty consistent all year and I think when you get to the playoffs you can’t change,” he said. “I think it’s just being the same team and just trusting in yourself and your teammates.”