Coming from humble beginnings, Spencer Rasmussen couldn’t have dreamt of the success he found in collegiate baseball, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t enough. 

For the past four and a half years, infielder Spencer Rasmussen has led Azusa Pacific University’s baseball team. By his first full season after COVID-19, Rasmussen already showed he was in a position to be one of the Cougar’s most powerful hitters. Then the following year he became one of the best in the PacWest with a season total of 16 home runs (3rd in the PacWest) and a .632 slugging percentage (also 3rd in the PacWest). 

Throughout his collegiate career, current graduate student Rasmussen received national attention. He was a Second Team-All-Region and a Second Team-All-PacWest in 2022 and was picked to the All-PacWest Preseason Team in 2023 and 2024. The irony is, that despite these accolades, Rasmussen says he never fully believed he was meant to play baseball until college.

In reality, Rasmussen’s baseball beginnings showcased a different, perhaps less promising picture than the current one. He explained, “The biggest thing about me is that it’s always been hard work. It’s never been natural talent or God-given ability even though I am tall. Everyone wants to go ‘Oh you’re 6’5” but I’ve never had the ideal male, athlete-type body. It’s never been easy.” 

Though baseball was in Rasmussen’s genes with his dad playing baseball for UC Irvine, by age 10 he was ready to quit. Rasmussen clearly remembers that after a bad practice, he announced to his mom he was giving up because he didn’t think he was good enough. However, Rasmussen’s dad made a deal with him that he was going to fix his swing and if he still didn’t like baseball after that, then he could quit. Immediately following this Rasmussen hit his first game home run. 

Still, for years, Rasmussen was more confident in basketball. During his freshman year of high school, though, he had a coach who killed his love for the game. In hindsight, this was a blessing. Rasmussen always loved watching baseball more and the redirection eventually revealed to him he had more baseball ability than previously believed.  

This realization didn’t happen overnight. In high school, Rasmussen wasn’t looked at by any colleges. “I was overweight in high school and was up north [of] 300 lbs, I was a big boy. I didn’t have any real athleticism. I could hit but it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t a big bopper then either,” Rasmussen said. 

Senior year of high school Rasmussen lost weight, but this didn’t result in as many offers as he thought it would. All of the hard work aimed at making it to the next level seemed to be for nothing. He wasn’t enjoying the game as much either and the temptation to quit arose once more. However, another path presented itself.

“APU offered me a walk-on spot. It was way too late. It was like April of my senior year when Coach Svagdis was like ‘Hey buddy we can take you on as a player, but we don’t have any money for you. Maybe you can make some money by your grad year,’” Rasmussen said. He had one athletic scholarship offer from another Division II school, but he chose APU, trusting in their winning culture. 

Rasmussen went into APU with a chip on his shoulder, built from the thought that he had something to prove. It eased Rasmussen a little when during COVID-19 in an indoor league, a former APU baseball player gave Rasmussen the assurance he had long searched for. The alum told Rasmussen that he had a beautiful swing and encouraged him to walk into his coach’s office to ask for a scholarship. 

He proved worthy of the alum’s compliments. That said, his first full season in 2021 did not come without setbacks. Rasmussen expanded, “It took so much effort to get there. Nothing was ever given. I didn’t take any handouts. I worked for my scholarship. I worked for my spot. I worked to keep my spot.” 

Part of these efforts included losing weight again after gaining some during COVID-19. He also fought to make it into the starting lineup. In the end, the spring proved to be magical, most notably when Rasmussen became the last of the six Cougars who recorded 10 home runs that season.  

Although Rasmussen now had the confidence to march into his coach’s office, as a year passed since meeting the alum, Rasmussen still hadn’t asked for a scholarship. “I was just grateful to have the opportunity I had in 2021 that I got into a lineup that was probably one of the best offensive lineups in D2 history. We led the nation in home runs per game with 2.41 per game, which are crazy numbers, and I was just blessed to work my way into that lineup… I didn’t ask for anything,” Rasmussen said. 

Yet, in the summer of 2021, Paul Svagdis, APU baseball’s former head coach, met with Rasmussen a couple of times for lunch. Among other things, the two discussed how because the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Osvaldo Tovalin, one of APU’s best players, a scholarship was now open. Although he hadn’t known Tovalin for long, Rasmussen modeled nearly his entire game after him—he still does. That’s why it was an unimaginable honor when during lunch, Svagdis told Rasmussen he was going to give him all of Tovalin’s scholarship money. 

Rasmussen began the 2022 season 4-for-40 at the plate. By the end of spring, he had the highest slugging and on-base percentage of the Cougars as well as top rankings in the PacWest. 

After achieving such an accomplished campaign, Rasmussen admits he believed in the 2023 season he’d hit 30 home runs and potentially get drafted. He adds, “But there is no success without somebody to share it with and I think the way my teammates reacted when I was getting those awards, at the time there wasn’t a whole lot of congratulations and there wasn’t a lot of support, and it’s because I wasn’t a teammate who was easy to root [for].” 

Reflecting on the 2022 season, Rasmussen realizes his identity was so wrapped up in baseball that success was the main thing he cared about. He didn’t care about his teammates’ approval. He didn’t care about his teammates, at least not to the same extent he does now. 

Photo via Ally Chin

His world got turned upside down when in the fall of 2022 he broke his hamate bone. This injury in Rasmussen’s hand left him in a cast for two months, with no clear answer if he’d be able to play at all that season. The following weeks, the injury seemed to worsen and even his orthopedic surgeon wasn’t sure if he’d need surgery. All at once his dream of playing professionally seemed to die. This time there wasn’t much he could do about that. 

Without having baseball to run to, Rasmussen turned elseward. “I started to turn to God for the first time in my life because I wasn’t really a religious kid growing up. It was just a toss up and I was like ‘Alright God what you want will be done. Like your will will be done’ and I just gave it to God and let go of the results, of whatever I could let go of. That just allowed me to find peace,” Rasmussen said. 

From there, Rasmussen began reading the Bible and going to church. Finding a relationship with God, according to Rasmussen, completely changed him. He realized no one cared that much when he became injured because he never really cared for others. He knew he had to learn to be a servant who loved without expecting anything in reciprocation. He says this lesson turned out to be pretty ironic because his mom later told him that Spencer meant servant, a meaning she intentionally gave him.  

“I realized that your identity is who you are outside of baseball or off the field or off what you’re doing. It’s away from work. It’s away from school. It’s who you are outside of these material things and these worldly things. Your identity in Christ and who you are as a person is way more important than what you do or how successful you are,” Rasmussen said. 

With these revelations, Rasmussen was content to let go of playing professionally. Between his broken hamate, being older than others and needing improvement defensively, it felt like the childhood dream of getting drafted was impossible.

Despite still recovering, Rasmussen’s 2023 season came with surprises. With 356 putouts he led the Cougars defensively and he ended the season with 40 runs scored and 10 home runs. His performance was impressive enough to bring in offers from Big Ten schools. 

“It was really exciting to be talked to about that stuff. It was like ‘Wow that could be really fun for my last year of baseball’ but I was like ‘I really want to stay here because I want to shape this next generation of players and grow this culture and mentor the younger guys on and off the field… It makes it worth all the while being here,” Rasmussen said.  

So far the 2024 season’s come with its wins and its losses. Rasmussen isn’t paralyzed by the defeats because like he’s seen in his own life, he’s witnessed APU come back multiple times after slow starts in both games and seasons. He said the crazy ride is all a part of baseball being a “failure sport” where the player must endure more lows than highs. Plus, Rasmussen adds it’s only the beginning of the season and he’s focused on making it a winning one. 

For now, Rasmussen is treating this as his final season. The sadness regarding this hasn’t sunk in yet, but it soon will. Most of all Rasmussen knows he’ll miss his teammates. He’ll miss connecting with infielder Jeffery Castillo during each play. He’ll miss seeing teammate George Christison lead the team as the main captain. He’ll miss watching his teammates hit walk-offs and home runs. 

Rasmussen’s bond with his friends and teammates may be no better visualized than in a collection of letters he received from many of his loved ones as a part of a gift his girlfriend gave him for Christmas. This present was completely unexpected. Rasmussen was especially surprised by a letter from his teammate, Aeden Alexander, whom he calls his “Mini Me.” 

“Aeden wrote to me about how it’s a blessing to have someone as a mentor who’s done just about everything they can do in college baseball. I never thought about myself like that. I always thought of myself as someone who still had something to prove,” Rasmussen said. With mementos like this one, that old chip continues to erode. 

With all that he’s learned, Rasmussen now looks to the future and can think of life outside of sports while he works on his Master’s in leadership at APU. Rasmussen says that between being in his 20s and needing to learn what his days hold without baseball, the future is hard to predict. However, he knows someday he’d like to raise a family and maybe teach his son to play baseball or his daughter softball. In planning for this goal, Rasmussen explained he’s drawing from positive examples he’s collected from childhood, but like most people, there are a few wrongs he wants to make right.   

In life, whether it’s as a ballplayer now or as a husband and father someday, Rasmussen wants to exemplify a lesson that coaches and teammates passed down to him. He wants to pour the same intensity into every moment and into every play that one would make in the ninth inning of a game. It’s this mentality that defines the underdog. It’s also the part of his story that he’ll pass down to his kids.

While it could be the end of one chapter, baseball’s probably not the last to show that Rasmussen stays in the game even when it’s kicking him down. As Rasmussen said, “Adversity has been a big part of my story. So just overcoming adversity every year has kind of led me to where I wanted to be and it’s allowed me to play a little free because when the odds are stacked against you, you have nothing to lose.”