This is the 22nd installment in my series on Christian baseball players. This time, we head to Philadelphia and look into the story of their star catcher – Carlos Ruiz.
It has been a lot of fun, in this series, to dig into the lives of these men; to read their stories and to remind myself that these guys are not simply characters in a drama – unflappable, without a care in the world, there purely for our entertainment. No, these men, like everyone else in the world, have a story.
And Carlos Ruiz, like the others I’ve touched on in this series, has an amazing story. You can read about his life and the challenges he faces, in this article from Sports Illustrated. Here are some highlights from Ruiz’ life. His story had it’s tone set in tragedy when, as a young boy in his native Panama, he dealt with the unexpected death of his father. As the oldest son, he took on the responsibility of being man of the house, and provider, working hard laborious jobs from the age of 10 to help his family. He also made a promise that he would make it as a big league baseball player.
At the age of 19, he went to the Phillies’ baseball academy in Dominican Republic. It was a hard, competitive experience – one that would lead Ruiz to try a new position – catcher – as he was deemed too slow to play his chosen position -Second Base.
He stuck with it and worked his way through the Phillies farm system for the next 8 years. He finally got his chance when the Phillies called him up in May, 2006. He played 27 games for them that year, and has played in over 100 games for them every year since.
How has Ruiz turned himself into what ESPN writer Jayson Stark called “the most underrated catcher in baseball”? He gets on base – a lot. and more than that, he knows how to handle a pitching staff. It is more than giving a target and catching a pitch. He has become someone who can motivate, challenge, and guide his staff to success. He claims some responsibility when things don’t work out (He takes each game, at bat, and hit personally)
Last year, he even received a few votes in the NL MVP voting, finishing tied for 15th. Ruiz has walked a long, challenging path to the majors. Part of what has helped him keep focus and perspective is his relationship with Christ. He became a Christ follower 4 years ago, and on a team with lots of Christian players, He is learning to share his faith with others, and use his fame to tell others about what God has done in his life. You can read a story of the first time Carlos Ruiz shared his testimony, speaking at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event in this article.
Ruiz has become one of the top catchers in all of baseball. It is his understanding of the game, the batters that his pitcher will face, and the situations and nuances of baseball that has made him so good. This knowledge and the way he works with his pitchers has lead to them being able to trust him completely with the game that he calls.
For example, last year, Roy Halliday – one of the best pitchers in baseball threw 2 no-hitters in the same year. Ruiz not only caught both games, but over the course of the 219 pitches that he called in the two games combined, Halliday shook off exactly 1 Ruiz suggestion for a pitch. The other 218 times, what Ruiz called, Ruiz got. This is a tribute both to the trust Halliday has in his catcher, and the ability Ruiz has to call the right pitch in the right place at the right time.
Earlier in this series, I wrote about lessons the catcher can teach us about our spiritual life. There are some more lessons that come to mind as I looked at the story of Carlos Ruiz. He is known for the way that he handles the pitching staff. He is the main catcher, which means that he catches games that all of them throw. He must know each pitcher completely – how they pitch, their rhythm, the signs of when they are starting to lose focus, or starting to tire, and how they react to adversity. He then must use what he knows to help each pitcher work the most effectively. He may be able to yell at some and get in their face to challenge them, while others, he needs to pat on the back and be more gentle with. This is an important part of the catcher/pitcher relationship. And it is a great skill to have to live in community and work toward a common goal, too. As believers, we have a role to play – we are all part of the body of Christ. The role of some will be encouragers/motivators. Sometimes, this will be done directly – a calling to attention things that can change to help someone else be the best that they can.
Ruiz is adept at working with the pitchers, supporting them and bringing out the best in them. Oh that we could all do that in the task of sharing God’s love to the world around us! Support each other, encourage one another, and if needed, call each other out in a way that will lead to refocusing on God’s plan and carrying it out at all costs.