Caleb Bruce doesn’t have to play sports in order to be happy.
But, when the Pawhuska High graduate commits to competition — opponents, watch out.
Bruce is wearing a Bartlesville Doenges Ford Indian baseball uniform this summer.
Whenever he steps on the field, he brings with him a rugged mindset befitting a warrior who has excelled in football, wrestling — and even dabbled in golf, badminton and disc golf.
Bruce’s .444 on-base percentage is among the top tier for the Indians — an American Legion AAAA team — and he has scored 11 runs and has struck out only once every 15 plate appearances.
Bruce has been no stranger to area sports fans.
As a young teenager, he earned a spot on the first local team that competed in the Sandy Koufax 14-U World Series, hosted for a few years in Bartlesville.
That was Bruce’s first experience of playing at Bill Doenges Memorial Stadium.
“It was awesome,” he recalled. “That was a fun group. … I caught most of those games.”
Up until his contact lens was ripped out and he had to briefly sit out.
Bruce admitted that back then “that stadium looked so much bigger than it does now.”
He’s enjoying his time with the Indians, which are composite group made up of players from Bartlesville, Pawhuska, Welch, Claremore and elsewhere.
“I like the experience of playing newer teams, playing better teams, getting to know my teammates better and going on trips,” Bruce said.
The excursion to the Branson (Mo.) tourney — and the opportunity to play on an all-turf field at the College of the Ozarks (Mo.) — remains a season highlight for Bruce.
Despite his glittering credentials in athletics, Bruce is uncertain yet what sport — if any — he might play in college.
“Wrestling has taken a toll on my knees,” he explained. “I might play baseball for a year. I’m currently enrolled at Rogers State. So far, I’m planning on working on my studies for a business management degree. If I get to the point I still want to play, I might try to walk on.”
To understand Bruce fully, one has to understand the meaning of family.
For this tough but thoughtful athlete, that’s where it all begins.
“It’s an honor to be a part of my family,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome. If I need to sell raffle tickets, they’ll be the first ones to buy them even though they can’t afford them. … We have a really close family.”
He credits his parents with indulging him in his sports pursuits from his youth.
“Them and my grandma,” he said. “Really, my while family. I’ve got a large family and they’re very, very supportive of me.”
And, they encourage Bruce from a very tender age to express himself athletically.
His early interest in sports sprang from watching them on television.
“My parents bought me a bunch a stuff to keep me entertained,” he said. “It started off with golf … and then baseball … and then badminton.”
While still young, a friend showed him a wrestling trophy, “and I wrestled 13 years since,” Bruce said.
Bruce made his mark as one of the top grapplers in the state — and at the same time internalized lessons of humility and the necessity of total devotion.
“All of my family were wrestlers,” he added. “We have four state medals in the family.”
His first cousin Taylor Woolman is a former Bartlesville High School state-qualifying wrestler.
In fact, Bruce’s biggest thrill in sports is not the feeling of rounding the bases after a homer or throwing a touchdown pass.
“There’s not a better feeling in the world than getting your hand raised after a wrestling match,” he said. “I’ve been successful in football and won a World Series. But, getting you hand raised as a winner in wrestling is a one-of-a-kind feeling.”
He also remains profoundly grateful to the support of the Pawhuska community to Huskie sports.
“They did pour a lot of money into our athletic program,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without the community.”
As he reflects on his season with the Indians he points to last week’s home doubleheader against Three Rivers as a highlight — even though the Indians lost.
“It was still a really good experience,” he said. “There were a lot of people there for the giveaways. … We had more energy than usual in the dugout in that game. The energy level was up.”
He also enjoys the rituals with the Indians, including the pre-game team prayer.
Approximately half the season remains for the Indians. What Bruce’s future holds after that — in terms of specifics — is yet to be written in fate’s diary.
But one thing is certain — whatever he chooses to do, he’ll give it his all.