John Kukuruda remembers stepping onto the mound for his first professional baseball game.
The right-handed pitcher was 18 years old and fresh out of high school in California – where, by the way, he pitched an unprecedented four straight no-hitters as a senior – when the Texas Rangers picked him up in the 28th round of the 2010 MLB draft and sent him to the rookie league in Surprise, Ariz.
“I was nervous. I was scared. I was shaking,” Kukuruda said. “The coaches were talking to me and I just didn’t know what I had gotten myself into. I gave up the longest home run of my career in that game. … It was a welcome to professional baseball.”
And now, in his third season as a pro, Kukuruda has been welcomed back to Spokane. The veteran will start on the mound tonight as the Indians kick off their 2012 Northwest League campaign with a five-game homestand against the Vancouver Canadians at Avista Stadium.
“I’m ecstatic to pitch opening night,” he said. “The fans here are amazing. They cheer on just about every pitch. There are going to be some nerves and a lot of excitement … it’s going to be a good game. I’m looking forward to completing a whole season here.”
Kukuruda spent the first half of the summer with the Indians in 2011, but a shoulder injury ended his season early. Sixth-year Indians coach Tim Hulett is looking forward to seeing what his No. 1 starter will bring.
“He did a good job last year. You throw him a bone and reward him for that,” Hulett said. “The lights aren’t going to have as much of an effect than on a guy that’s never pitched in this environment.”
Kukuruda isn’t only familiar with the lights – he’s also well-seasoned in receiving media attention.
That’s because the Roseville, Calif., native was thrust into the spotlight during his final season at East Nicolaus High School when he pitched his fourth straight no-hitter – in May 2010 – and broke the high school state record for consecutive no-hitters, previously set in 1967.
That also made him the eighth high-school pitcher in the nation to throw four straight. The national record is six, which was accomplished once in 1961 in Mississippi and again in Ohio in 1989.
Kukuruda and his team won the game 10-0 in five innings. He hit one batter, walked another and had one reach on an error, but finished with 11 strikeouts.
“I didn’t pay much attention to it while I was doing it, because during the first two I had no idea that they were even happening,” Kukuruda said. “The papers started calling … and then I threw my fourth and it just went from there. Everybody was coming by the house and talking to me about it and all that kind of stuff.
“It was crazy, but you can’t let that kind of stuff get to your head.”
Hulett, who wasn’t aware of Kukuruda’s 15 minutes of high school baseball fame, certainly won’t let it.
“So what you’re telling me is that high school baseball in California isn’t very good?” Hulett joked. “I’m going to have to get on him about that now. I’ve got some good ones for him.”
That’s Hulett’s way of saying, “Welcome back to professional baseball in Spokane.”