SOUTH LAWNDALE — The baseball coach at Farragut Academy is a woman who has never played a competitive game in the sport.
But Linda Ruiz's players think she's the perfect person for the job.
"At first, people were skeptical about it, but she's doing really well," Admirals senior Booker Flowers said.
Ruiz, who also is the school's athletic director and teaches physical education and driver's education, said she advertised the gig last year but no one wanted it.
So the Humboldt Park resident decided to give it a shot.
"I love watching baseball, and I love analyzing what we're doing and going back to the drawing board and seeing where there's need for improvement," said Ruiz, a Tilden High School and University of Illinois graduate. "At the start of the season, I got my kids together and told them I had a mission."
While there are no definitive numbers, a woman coaching a high school baseball team is rare. A Slate article last year reported only two women coached prep football teams nationwide, while just 3 percent of men's sports in college were coached by females.
"I know it's an unusual situation," Ruiz said.
Ruiz, 52, does have a solid sports background. Growing up, she was a standout softball player in leagues at Davis Square Park and only recently retired from competition.
She's also a baseball fanatic, especially for the Cubs. That stems from watching countless games at the family's grocery store in Back of the Yards as a teenager.
"Baseball was in front of her all of the time," said her brother Raul Ruiz Rooney, 57, a De La Salle graduate who taught her how to hit and throw.
Ruiz said the best coaching attribute of his sister is her ability to communicate. Flowers concurred, noting Ruiz keeps each player focused.
"She pays attention to people and physically shows us what to do," said Flowers, 18, of Roseland. "And she listens to us real well."
Flowers said the Admirals last year were a rag-tag group, with only 10 players showing up for practices.
This year, Ruiz has 28 players on the official roster, and 24 attended a practice Thursday in the school's auxiliary gym.
"I think the biggest reason for that is Coach Ruiz," said sophomore Mario Brito, a team captain who lives in Little Village. "She really cares about the team."
Ruiz said she spent $800 of her own money to pay for team warmups and jogging pants.
She sees the coaching opportunity as a way of keeping her players off the streets for 3½ hours a day — and to avoid the mistakes she admittedly made.
"My kids know that I gang-banged for a year and a half as a teenager," said Ruiz, who added she fought and shoplifted. "I don't want my players enticed into gang activity or to have them get a head start in fatherhood."
The Admirals' first game is April 1, and Ruiz thinks her team can contend for a conference title.
Brito said Ruiz has made the club care about much more than just wins and losses.
"We treat each other like a family," he said. "We stick together."