Gruler, who was drafted third overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, has started an Internet branding company after his baseball career went foul.
The promising right-hander wowed scouts with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball and a devastating curveball, but ran into a jam shortly after getting drafted. “I began throwing a lot after getting drafted,” Gruler said. “My shoulder just couldn’t keep up.”
After shoulder reconstruction surgeries in 2003, ’05 and ’07, the Reds cut him. “I had been grinding it out and trying to come back,” Gruler said. “It was kind of a shock.”
Today, Gruler has turned his full attention to helping athletes create an identity online they can be proud of. After he studied his newfound passion for a year and a half in 2005 and ’06, he and his father launched Protégébranding.com.
With a base of about 65 to 70 clients that includes businesses of various sizes, professional athletes and individuals, Gruler helps design Wordpress sites, establish domain names, launch the sale of products online, create online logos and generate interest in personal brands.
Bob Nudelman, owner of First Choice Media, said Gruler has done quality work for his company as a vendor helping with Internet directory products and promotion through search engine optimization and on Facebook.
“What sets Chris apart is he is 100 percent ethical and honest,” Nudelman said. “He is a good guy who is top-notch at what he does.”
For athletes, Gruler helps create profiles and manage how they’re represented online. “It’s a necessity to control your own brand,” Gruler said. “When your name is searched, you want to be able to deliver something you’re proud of.”
Brad Larson of GoDaddy.com said Gruler’s work is transformative for athletes outside sports. “Most athletes aren’t aware of how they’re searched online,” Larson said. “They have an opportunity to extend their reach. What Chris is doing is very forward thinking.”
Gruler said Protégébranding.com is in its growth phase: Gruler’s father is the owner, Gruler is the acting CEO and visionary, and the company employs one full-time marketing employee, two interns and works closely with 11 developers.
Gruler has clients in China, Puerto Rico, Canada and all over the United States. He has also used his experience as a high-profile athlete to snag some business from professional athletes such as former major-leaguers Roberto Alomar and Tom Glavine, and UFC fighter Aaron Simpson.
In all, Gruler has worked with about 11 high-profile athletes in the company’s growing client base. “You don’t expect it to grow into something substantial when you start something like this,” Gruler said. “I was just trying to find out what I wanted to do after baseball, but we are growing every quarter and doing fantastic.”
The company is a month out from launching a cellphone application that will allow clients to stream video and interact with those who visit their sites.
Working with high-profile athletes has also spawned his interest in philanthropy: 8 percent of income generated by athletes through their websites is given to charity. “We want athletes that are good people,” Gruler said. “People that can drive to make changes.”
Gruler’s transition from the limelight wasn’t easy. The day he got cut by Cincinnati, he was strolling through Home Depot focused on getting back on “the bump.” Instead, a phone call added another bump in the road. He had bought a few rental properties while training and rehabbing in Arizona, but real estate wouldn’t be a long-term endeavor.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Gruler said. “It was not a good time in my life.”
After four months of dipping in and out of what he described as mild depression, Gruler got a phone call from his mom that helped him understand an important lesson. “She called me on the phone and told me simply to get my stuff together and start writing out my feelings,” Gruler said. “That’s all I did for two weeks; then I realized there’s more to life than baseball.”