Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz will soon begin life without his Phillies teammates who will be heading north for an Opening Day date with the Atlanta Braves. Although he is the primary catcher-in-residence for the Phils, he is being forced by MLB to sit out the first 25 games of the regular season because he violated baseball’s drug policy. It is a situation Ruiz finds regretful and one for which he has sincerely apologized.
For Ruiz, the Phillies are family. He began his professional baseball career in 2004 playing for the Phillies Double-A farm team the Reading Phillies and spent two years there. In 2006, he got the phone call that most ball players dream about – the major leagues were calling and the Phillies wanted him in Philadelphia. He only played a couple dozen games in 2006 and just over a hundred games in 2007. Then in 2008, Ruiz was promoted to the starting catcher position for the Phillies and played 117 games helping them win only their second World Championship.
From 2009 thru 2012, Ruiz firmly established himself as one of the premier catchers in the NL, although he’s never received the hype and accolades of other more well-known back-stops like Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants or Brian McCann of the Atlanta Braves. Most notably, Ruiz caught Roy Halladay’s perfect game in May of 2010, and later that year had the privilege of catching Halladay’s no-hitter in the NLDS. In so doing, he became one of only three men to catch two no-hitters in the same season.
In Philadelphia, Ruiz is affectionately called “Chooch” and has become a fan favorite. An emotional man, he now finds himself with repair work to do both on and off the playing field. Having experienced growing devotion from hard-to-please crowds at Citizen’s Bank Park, regaining fan support is not guaranteed and could prove to be a rocky road.
As a player who becomes a free agent at the end of the 2013 season, Ruiz has much to prove. Promising catchers abound in the Phillies farm system and there are those who feel an overall youth movement is in order. At 34, he could be on the outside looking in. It’s understandable how Ruiz, shy by nature, could be easily dismissed. He is not the self-promoting type and is uneasy expressing himself in English.
All of these factors could add up to a very challenging 2013 season except Ruiz is adored by a fan base that can be both fickle and extremely loyal. Except that he is universally respected and loved by his fellow teammates and coaches. Except that he is one tough catcher and can still put up some great numbers. Except that he is a humble human being who knows he screwed-up, has asked for forgiveness, and now can serve his suspension and move on.
Ruiz’s heart was on display following the first official workout of spring training when he sat down with reporters and tried to answer questions about his drug suspension. By most accounts it wasn’t a particularly revealing session news-wise at a picnic table in the shadows of Bright House Field in Clearwater. And it lacked few, if any, new or enticing revelations.
It was, however, a uniquely insightful time into the soul of this quiet, contemplative player. As with most people, language and meaning aren’t communicated primarily by the words we speak; instead, our actions and body language do the ‘talking’. Ruiz is no different. It wasn’t what he said or didn’t say during the interview that was so revealing. For him words couldn’t adequately express those deep emotions. But the hunched shoulders, bowed head and his inability to stop the tears from flowing, said it all.