UCLA’s Rahmatulla ready to overcome adversity

Overcoming adversity can be a tough chore for some players, but UCLA junior infielder Tyler Rahmatulla isn’t your average player. He’s been through more in two seasons than most players will face in four seasons after suffering a broken foot to start fall workouts.

Still, when Rahmatulla talks about the obstacles he has had to overcome, he shrugs them off as if they’re not a big deal. He’s much more focused on helping the Bruins improve enough on and off the field to return to the College World Series and capture the program’s first national title.

The fact Rahmatulla has spent the past six months as only a vocal leader is the most frustrating aspect for him.

Tyler Rahmatulla looks forward to returning to the UCLA infield in the spring.

“It has been really frustrating for me this semester after missing the fall after breaking my foot the first day of workouts,” Rahmatulla said. “I had worked my tail off all summer just to get back to this point and was excited to play. Then comes the broken foot.”

Rahmatulla is in a protective walking shoe and is expected to play at 100 percent when the Bruins begin their 2011 campaign in February. But deep down, you’re almost wondering what comes next for the junior infielder. Hopefully it’s not an injury. Instead, you’re hoping his bout with adversity will turn into a run of luck.

Rahmatulla’s date with adversity began as a freshman. He arrived at UCLA with acclaim and a scouting report that suggested he had a big-time bat and a very good arm. The arm didn’t disappoint in his first season, but his offensive skills left something to be desired.

In his first season, Rahmatulla experienced adversity for the first time and failed to meet expectations, tallying a .222 batting average with just eight RBI’s in 35 games. His year didn’t get much better after the college season when struggled at the Cape Cod League.

The Bruins didn’t lose hope in Rahmatulla. They merely were waiting for him to make a complete transition.

“We always thought he had the ability to be a very good offensive player, but he wasn’t quite ready to step in and do his thing as a freshman,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “I also remember the Cape Cod folks telling me they wanted him back because they thought he had a chance to be a special player.”

That hunch by Rahmatulla’s Cape Cod coaches came to fruition when fall workouts resumed a few months later. Rahmatulla worked with the team psychologist, and with the help of hitting coach Rick Vanderhook, his attitude changed for the better and his confidence grew.

“I think my first season was basically half mechanics and half my mental game,” Rahmatulla said. “The mental thing was probably the biggest thing, because I really worked on that after my freshman season. I also worked hard on never giving up at the plate and always staying confident in my abilities.”

Rahmatulla wasted no time putting his newfound confidence on display when the 2010 season arrived. He was a defensive staple for the Bruins at second base and did his most damage at the plate, where he batted .328 with seven homers and 45 RBIs. He also had a .434 on-base percentage.

The Los Angeles Super Regional was the pinnacle of Rahmatulla’s season, where he hit a key home run that helped lead the Bruins over nemesis Cal State Fullerton in an elimination game.

Just when you thought Rahmatulla was done with adversity, it struck again a day later when he broke a bone in his hand during the team’s celebration for getting to Omaha for the first time since 1997. Rahmatulla was understandably distraught, unable to play in Omaha and forced to watch from the dugout.

“Omaha was a very, very tough time for him emotionally because he was such a team guy and he wasn’t able to play with his team,” Savage said. “But he was involved in everything we did there and he was a fantastic leader to our team. The only thing he didn’t do was play. He just had an unselfish presence about him.”

The Bruins were excited to get Rahmatulla back and healthy this fall after he was unable to play in Omaha. But adversity struck again with the broken foot on the first day of workouts.

As has become a common theme in his collegiate career, Rahmatulla, who continues to rehab his foot, can’t help but to feel somewhat unlucky. But the UCLA coaches were quick to put his second injury in perspective.

“He kind of wondered why him and why a second time around when it comes to injuries,” Savage said. “But I told him let’s look at this in a positive perspective. It’s better it happens now than if it happened in January or February. He’ll be ready to start fresh in the middle of December.”

The Bruins will have some decision to make about Rahmatulla when he gets back on the field. Without Niko Gallego, the team’s shortstop last season, the Bruins must find someone to take over the position. That someone could be Rahmatulla, or one of several talented young players.

Rahmatulla knows where he’d like to be come spring.

“I’d definitely like to be at shortstop, as that’s where I’m most comfortable,” he said. “I like things moving that direction, but whatever is best for the team is fine by me. It doesn’t really matter to me as long as I’m playing up the middle.”

In the meantime, Rahmatulla will use caution with his foot in hopes a problem won’t flare up when spring arrives. But if adversity strikes again, Rahmatulla will know how to handle the situation.

He’s a pro at handling adversity. Let’s hope his dates with it are over.

“I don’t really like to think about [another injury], but it’s always in the back of your mind,” he said. “I’m trying not to play that way. I’m really motivated right now. I’m just fired up.”

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Dec 1, 2010