Former Las Vegas 51, Still Swinging
BALTIMORE, MD – At 4:14pm, on a beautiful day where the sun glared brightly and a light breeze swept through the stadium, Randy Ruiz, former Las Vegas 51 and the latest Designated Hitter for the Toronto Blue Jays, stepped into the batters box for the last time this season. As he dug his cleats into the ground and raised his bat as he has done countless times before, one can only guess what was going through the mind of the man who spent 11 years and over 1,000 games in the minor leagues to bring him to that exact moment in time.
The 31-year old burly slugger, coined, “Babe Ruiz,” by MLB writers, ended the best season of his career thus far. The New York native, formerly of the Las Vegas 51’s and called up to the big show in early August, stays confident, even despite a tumultuous weekend in Baltimore.
“For me, it’s about staying positive,” says the 6’1” Ruiz.
Ruiz who is often described as, “a really nice guy,” by clubhouse members and fans, does his best to stay away from negativity and focuses on the game. After the unrest in the Blue Jay organization this weekend with the termination of JP Ricciardi and rampant rumors of a clubhouse “mutiny” against Cito Gaston, the Webster Award Winner, humbly had nothing to say, but good things.
“All I can say [is] that Cito has been very honest and he [has] helped me out a lot with knowing the game of baseball and hitting…” says Ruiz. “To me, he is a nice guy.”
And the sometimes seemingly shy hitter, first baseman and proud father, has nothing to hang his head at either. Ruiz, despite being called up to Toronto a month prior to the end of the minor league season, led the PCL with 106 RBIs, hitting .322 with 25 home runs, 43 doubles and 70 extra base hits. With stats like those, it’s no wonder that Ruiz, Pacific Coast League All-Star, was named the PCL MVP of 2009 and awarded the Las Vegas Mayor’s Trophy.
As fate would have it, after years of being bounced around in the minors and journeying through countless stadiums, the Bronx native left the Las Vegas 51’s to return home to New York where he batted sixth in the lineup as Toronto’s Designated Hitter. Ruiz hit his first homerun as a Blue Jay in the new Yankee Stadium, just a few blocks away from where he grew up. And to prove that it wasn’t just a stroke of luck, “Babe Ruiz,” duplicated the feat the very next day.
After being asked what it must have felt like to hit his first homerun of the season for Toronto, against the top-seated New York Yankees, in his native town where he once traversed the streets dreaming of the feat he just accomplished, the well-traveled Ruiz had only one response, a demure, yet proud smile.
With age as his clear downfall, some say that he is a long shot to remain in the big leagues. However, in what can only be called a true feel-good story, Ruiz earns his nickname of, “Babe” not only for his hitting record and stature, but for mirroring the Great Bambino in his unbounding faith as well.
“I could've quit a long time ago,” said the former 51 earlier this year, “But the man upstairs brought me into this world to hit baseballs.”
Batting .313 and finishing with one of the best batting averages in the Toronto Clubhouse this season, for Ruiz, baseball is his life. And quitting? Not a word in his vocabulary. Hard work and dedication? Ingrained in his blood.
“I never had a doubt in my mind, I was raised by a family who never quit. We always had to work hard for [anything] we got. The word quit [doesn’t] exist...”
And perhaps his perseverance can be seen best this season, not through the countless years he spent on the farm, but through a very real scare Ruiz encountered in early September. With the bases loaded, Ruiz came up to bat to face former Blue Jay and New York Yankee, Josh Towers, and was hit in the face by a heater from the right-handed pitcher. The 88-mph fastball fell Ruiz to his knees, but he shortly composed himself and walked off the field unassisted, under his own power. And, even more amazing, returned to the Blue Jays lineup two days after the painful RBI.
Ruiz quipped with reporters shortly after, "You can't break steel,” and added, “Everybody compared to me to Muhammad Ali because I have the chubby cheeks and the curly hair… Maybe I should take up the sport in the offseason and see what happens."
As Ruiz headed into the dugout after his last at-bat for the season and took his seat on the bench, he was undaunted by an uncertain future. Ruiz hopes to have found a home with the Toronto Blue Jays and come back swinging next year. One thing is sure however, the slugger from the Bronx and his bat will be back, regardless of where he finds a place in the game. He plans to return to Las Vegas in the offseason prior to leaving to Puerto Rico in December where he will be playing Winter League Baseball.
As the lights go out this season for Randy Ruiz and the Toronto Blue Jays, he still continues to inspire with a few golden words, “…Never give up your dream no matter how long it takes you to get there, always give back and never forget where you came from.”
Enlightening words from someone who beat the odds and whose conviction and spirit for the game, will never be broken.