Jacob Olson's time on the baseball field is in honor of his late cousin, Brody Ruchti

Jacob Olson's time on the baseball field is in honor of his late cousin, Brody Ruchti

COLUMBIA, SC (TheBigSpur.com) -- Brody Ruchti's story is a sad one.

Any man would feel his eyes well with tears, and loved ones will be held tighter, family pulled closer. Brody Ruchti wouldn't want this to be a sad story, at least not without taking something from it.

"He was always a happy kid and tried to find something good in anything that was bad," Jacob Olson said. "That is something that my family has held onto in all of this. Even in something like this, he would find something to hang on to."

He was a 15-year-old with a vibrant personality who loved to hunt, play baseball, a was a wizard with his hands.

"He could make anything out of nothing," Olson said. "In just a few minutes, he made a slingshot and was shooting rocks at me when I'd walk out the door."

Brody Ruchti had three older siblings, immediate family, with two sisters and a brother. His cousin, Jacob Olson, lived just a few doors down. Their houses were so close Olson could turn on a 90 mph fastball and hit it from his doorstep over his little cousin's house.

The Olson household had four boys - Corey (22), Jacob (20), Grant (16) and Bryant (14). Brody's older brother, Kyle, is Jacob's age. The six boys could raise a ruckus, and they were close, tight-knit group.

Brody was more like third little brother to Jacob, not a cousin.

"It's one street going up a hill, turns to the right, and we ran that neighborhood and still do," Olson said. "First house on the left is Nana and Granddaddy. Second on the right is Brody's. Fourth one on the right on top of the hill is mine. We were all right there together."

Jacob's parents, Karl and Jan Olson, moved into the neighborhood a little over a dozen years ago just up the street from Jan's sister, Ginger Ruchti, and her husband, Tony.

The boys, of course, were inseparable. Almost everything was outdoors for the boys, but there was a, what he called, a "UFC phase." In a house of boys, there are always boxing or wrestling matches.

"There were certainly no boring times at all," Jacob Olson said. "We'd throw on the gloves and let each other go at it. We took care of him but at the same time, we'd toughen him up. We'd all get riled up and doing what boys do, just out there throwing hands."

But they took care of each other. They were family, and family is always first for the Olsons, Ruchtis and both Harold and Winifred Palmer, better known as Granddaddy and Nana.

That's what makes this such a sad story, an indescribable time.

The morning of December 29, just a few days after Christmas and less than a month ago, Brody and Kyle went out for a morning duck hunt. Kyle was scheduled to leave later that day to go back to California where he's stationed in the Marine Corps.

The morning duck hunt was a successful one, a great time for the avid outdoor brothers. As strong as the bond was between the six, Brody and Kyle were tight as two brothers in a household that included two sisters, Logan and Emily.

There was a quick stop back at the house after the early morning hunt and the two were loading up the car for round two. They were going to head out to the field to shoot targets when a revolver that Brody held slipped from his hand.

When the gun hit the ground, it fired. Brody Randall Ruchti didn't survive the blast.

"He dropped the gun just in the wrong way and it was a perfect disaster," Olson said. "It all happened in the worst way possible."

Jacob can tell the story of what happened, and he can recount the fond memories he has from Brody's 15 years on this earth. The day after Christmas, just a few days before Brody's untimely passing, the two were off deer hunting together. There was a buck near Brody, but he didn't have a good shot and it was moving towards Jacob. A few text messages back and forth for a little bit of intel and Jacob dropped that deer.

"He told me I had one coming for me, it came out. He yelled, 'Got it?' and I yelled back, 'Got it!' Just like that, he was down out of his stand helping me get it out of the woods."

Those are the things Jacob can talk about right now, but he has trouble finding the words to describe his emotions since the accident.

Words hard to express, there will be something noticeably different when Jacob takes the field when practice begins on Friday. On his left forearm is some original artwork in fresh ink, an outward display of the love he has for his cousin, and a reminder to hang onto something good.

The last buck that Brody fell was a nine-pointer with the antlers just like as detailed on his strong left arm. Inside those antlers is a baseball in remarkable detail with the number eight at the top and Brody's initial emblazoned at the bottom.

"I knew I wanted to do it and wanted to do it right here on my forearm because when I play, it's going to be seen," Olson said. "I designed it, drew it up, and his older sister drew it a little better than I could. It'll always be there.""

Hunting is what they could do together, but baseball was a sport to bring them closer as well. Brody was a fixture at his older cousin's game, seeing him from the youth leagues, to high school, to junior college for a year and now at South Carolina.

There were more than a few trips to Founders Park to see Jacob, a .294 hitter in 58 games played a year ago.

Brody played ball, too, and was beginning to flourish as a left-handed pitcher and outfielder. High school ball was getting ready to start up soon. There were ambitions of playing at a higher level and South Carolina would be a place he would have loved to play, says Jacob.

Baseball is now a way for South Carolina's number seven to honor Hurricanes baseball's number eight.

"He was really, really working hard and he was going to be something," Olson said. "Everything I do baseball wise will always be for him, always. In a way, everything I do will be for him, but with baseball, it's bigger."

That very first game, when Olson and the Gamecocks take the field against VMI on February 16, will be an emotional one. It's impossible to predict how those feelings will manifest themselves the first time he jogs out of the dugout and then digs into the batters box.

"Special," he says, without knowing what other words he will have to describe that day.

Olson is back on campus now, classes and workouts beginning on January 16. He had 17 days at home with his family after the accident before having to return to Columbia. He was helping to hold his tight-knit family as they coped, just as they held him.

Now, his teammates are the ones who are providing support. Word of what happened spread quickly among the team after he made a post to his Instagram account on December 30. They understood when he stayed home a week longer than most of the other guys expected to return to the locker room early to get ready for the start of practice.

And when he arrived, they embraced him, reminded him they love him, too.

"It was hard in the beginning because you're leaving there to come here. You have to be here, and want to be here, but what you leave at home is hard," Olson said. "Everyone here has been great. The support has been unbelievable. They didn't know him, but they've taken care of me and kept my family in their prayers. Everyone here has really been good to me."

There are still moments he yearns to be back home though, at least just briefly to take a drive up the hill, to stop at Nana and Granddaddy's house and see them. Brody and Granddaddy were incredibly close. Then he'd continue around the curve to the right to see his family; his aunt, uncle, brothers and cousins.

He's here for a while though, baseball in full tilt. It's not that he didn't know this before, because he's appreciated every single moment with every single member, but family is his rock.

"Family is the biggest thing you got and it's not that I didn't know that, and it's not that I didn't cherish that, but some things wake you up even more," Olson said. "I'm so happy I have them and I just always make sure they know I love them."

They'll be up here to see him, just like they were throughout the 2017 season, maybe even a bit more often just to be sure to hug his neck.

Right now though, he has his teammates beside him every day. He has memories of Brody ingrained in his head and a constant reminder emblazoned on his arm. From the little UFC sparring sessions to sneaking away before the sun comes up to drop a deer or some ducks, Jacob will carry those moments.

"He was just that kid that everyone should meet in their life at some point," Olson said. "I just want to live like he did; he was free, easy and always found a way to be happy. I never saw him down, and he was always just happy all the time."

There is still immeasurable heartache and countless tears for those in Monroe, Ga. at the top of that hill in the neighborhood run by the Palmers, Ruchtis and Olsons. Through that heartache and those tears, Brody would want something positive found, something good to cling to.

It's what Brody would have wanted, how he lived his life, and the way Jacob is, too.

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