Carlos Ruiz still underestimates his popularity | Marcus Hayes

Carlos Ruiz still underestimates his popularity | Marcus Hayes

COLE HAMELS is devout in his routine and monkish in his habits. So is Carlos Ruiz. It’s why they made such a terrific battery when they played together in Philadelphia.

It’s also why they didn’t cross paths during the first two games of the Rangers-Mariners series in Seattle last month. Hamels was scheduled to start for the Rangers on Sunday, getaway day. Hamels sometimes doesn’t even speak to his wife on the days he starts. So, when Ruiz saw Hamels warming up on the outfield grass before the game April 16, he figured he’d catch up with Hamels when the Rangers returned in May.


Ruiz stopped. He turned around.

Are you glad the Phillies will keep Pete Mackanin around?


Hamels was jogging over. Ruiz just stood there, dumbstruck. Hamels gave him a big hug. Ruiz couldn’t believe it. Most starting pitchers often won’t talk to anyone on the day they pitch. Hamels won’t even talk to anyone the day before he pitches.

“I mean, he was pitching that day,” Ruiz said. “He saw me, he came over. He told me he thought it was great I signed with Seattle this year.”

Ruiz told this story as he sat in the chair in front of his locker before he helped the Mariners beat the Phillies on Wednesday. He was autographing a baseball with a fine-tipped felt pen, carefully, meticulously, the way he does everything he does. He put down the ball and the pen and leaned forward for emphasis, with wide-eyed wonder:

“And he was pitching that day!”

Ruiz is a 12-year big-leaguer, a former All-Star with a World Series ring who has caught four no-hitters, which tied him for that record. He has earned almost $45 million doing it.

Still, in many ways, Ruiz cannot believe he ever made it to the major leagues. He cannot understand why he is so respected and so beloved . . . which is why, to a large degree, he is so respected and beloved.

He’s discovering that, when humility by the most fortunate is genuine, you become a natural hero. That when you live your life decently, the reward can be immense.

Your mere presence can melt the hardest of hearts.

Chase Utley is a slave to regimen. Almost nothing disrupts his ballpark routine. Almost.

“The day I got to Los Angeles after I got traded, Chase Utley was the first guy I saw. He welcomed me. He gave me a big hug,” Ruiz said. “He was, like, ‘You. You are my brother.’ “

It is, indeed, a brotherhood; a brotherhood of overachievers.

The Phillies of the Golden Era weren’t supposed to be Golden at all. That never set well with them.

When first-year general manager Pat Gillick traded away well-paid veterans Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Cory Lidle and Ryan Franklin in 2006, Gillick announced that the remaining players would not be expected to reach the playoffs until after the 2008 season. The remaining players included reigning NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and lightly regarded catching prospect Carlos Ruiz. All but Rollins would go on to represent the Phillies in an All-Star Game. Rollins and Howard were National League MVPs. They made the playoffs in 2007 and won the World Series in 2008.

Gillick’s lack of regard for his own roster freed the players to create their own clubhouse environment; to set their own agenda; to galvanize them. It is with this sense of fraternity that Chooch recalls his time with his teammates.

Utley, as it turns out, was the funniest Phillie.

“He was just always joking with me,” Ruiz said.

Perhaps that was because they both obsessed over practice and preparation?

“Maybe. Nobody worked harder than Chase.” Ruiz paused. “Except maybe me.”

Hamels was compulsive, too, and innovative. He entered a baseball world still limited to hot tubs and ice as the extent of physical maintenance, but Hamels would try anything: acupuncture, massage, Pilates, yoga: hot and cold. He complained that he needed a network of alternative medical professionals both on staff in Philadelphia and available in every city. He wanted better food in the clubhouse. Weird, right?

“No, not weird. No. Just quiet. Just different,” Ruiz said. “We’ll have lunch when we go to Texas.”

There wasn’t much time for lunches in Philadelphia. The Mariners’ visit was only two days long, but that’s a good thing. South Philly couldn’t have handled much more adoration.

The Mariners visited for just two games. Ruiz pinch-hit in the first and started the second. In both games, the Phillies and the fans celebrated him with his old walk-up music and a standing ovation as he entered the batter’s box, as well as a video montage between one of the innings. He doubled with the bases loaded in the seventh inning Wednesday and broke the game open. Fans cried, “Choooch!”

After the game, he leaned back in his chair and fought back tears.

“I couldn’t have imagined so much love,” he said. “I felt so much love.”

There hasn’t been much good feeling this season. It was his best game as a Mariner.

The double was his first hit in May. It paused a 1-for-24 slump. Ruiz produced well in 2016, but he hit .211 in 2015. He’s at .129 now. He’ll be 39 next season.

Ruiz said he would play again next season but the first six weeks of 2017 seems to be spelling the end for the everyday core of the 2008 champs.

Rollins couldn’t make a team this year. Howard was released from his minor league deal Monday. Utley went 2-for-3 with two RBI for the Dodgers on Wednesday . . . which raised his average to .145 and gave him three RBI in 26 games.

Ruiz added a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning, his fourth RBI on Wednesday . . . but just his fifth of the season. Once again, probably for the last time, fans at Citizens Bank Park rained down the cheer: “Chooooch.”

If that’s the way it ends for Chooch in Philadelphia, it was a wonderful way to go out.


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Published at Thu, 11 May 2017 22:54:20 +0000

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