Carlos Ruiz used to be the lowest guy in the lineup, the guy who was unknown to the other 29 teams. Then came 2012, and with all of the injuries and struggles, Ruiz shined. He is unknown no more.
As if Phillies fans needed another reason to love Chooch, Ruiz was profiled in an ESPN the Magazine article by Jorge Arangure Jr.
From humble beginnings in Panama, the Phillies took interest in a second baseman who was converting to catcher. The Phillies had passed on Ruiz twice already, once as a pitcher and again as a second baseman.
Ruiz signed with the Phillies for $8,000 in 1998. He was 19. He dropped out of college to take the chance of reaching the major leagues. It was instantly an underdog story.
Ruiz is just 5 feet-10 inches tall. When he arrived at his first camp in the Phillies’ Dominican League, he was noticeably smaller than many of the other players. He had very little experience as a catcher. Try to bear this thought, on his first day of camp, Ruiz couldn’t catch a pop up.
For the first time in his life, he had to adjust to extreme change. Panama does not breed major-league players like other countries. Ruiz was a longshot, and had to sacrifice quite a bit to chase a dream.
Many people helped Ruiz reach that impossible dream. Former Phillies’ assistant GM Mike Arbuckle, now with the Royals, was part of the team that signed him. Bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer helped Ruiz form into a catcher.
He progressed through the system quickly. He was in Double-A by 2004. An injury to their then-starter Russ Jacobson, made Ruiz the starter. With regular playing time, Ruiz turned into a prospect of the future for the Phillies.
What may be most amazing is that Ruiz was a shy person. He didn’t know much English, he was timid in meetings on the mound, and he wouldn’t stand his ground when a pitcher shook him off. For pitchers, he was actually difficult to work with.
Now, this is the catcher that has pure leadership and has drawn praise as being one of the best to call games from superstar pitchers like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Pitchers love working with him.
Ruiz took pride in learning the game from a catching standpoint, and eventually developed into one of the most knowledgable in the game. He was no longer an experiment behind the plate. He was a catcher and a good one at that.
The road wasn’t easy in the years that followed either. He didn’t reach the majors until 2006. He earned the starting job in 2007.
But in the years that have followed, Ruiz has become a fan-favorite and a part of Phillies lore. He’ll always be remembered for what is probably the shortest walk-off hit in World Series history in Game 3 of the 2008 Fall Classic. He’ll always be the guy on the receiving end of Brad Lidge’s final strike to win the second World Series title in Phillies history.
But this season, Ruiz has taken it to another level. He’s dominating all of the major offensive categories among catchers in baseball. He’s always been among the best defensive catchers in the game. In terms of his status when compared to other catchers in baseball, like Yadier Molina and Buster Posey, Ruiz may have been the best kept secret for several seasons.
Now, he’s becoming a star in his own right. For the way this season has gone, there is nothing quite like hearing an entire ballpark sound a “Chooch” chant.
Ruiz has gone all the way from longshot underdog to Philadelphia superstar. No matter how long his career lasts, he will always be a beloved member of Phillies history.