IN THE MIDST of his second great postseason, previously unsung Phillies catcher Carlos "Chooch" Ruiz is suddenly so popular at the Bank that "CHOOOCH!" chants are almost as loud as "RAUUUL!" howls, and two rival fan clubs are showing him love.
Mike Alfonso, co-founder of the Chooch-Chooch Train fan club, sent me an angry e-mail after I reported the Monday night debut of Chooch's Chicos - seven Ruiz rooters from Medford Lakes, N.J., in sombreros and fake mustaches - at Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
Alfonso said he is frustrated by the attention Chooch's Chicos received. He wrote that his Chooch-Chooch Train club has 30 members to the Chicos' seven, and is more true to Ruiz's Panamanian roots.
"We tailgate with authentic Panamanian beer and an inflatable sombrero beer cooler - all approved by Ivan the Cart Guy, who works outside my building and is from Panama," Alfonso wrote.
"I wear a Panama flag as a cape, which I also got from Ivan the Cart Guy," he added. "Tim Chicirda, our co-creator, wears an authentic Panama hat."
Yesterday, Brent Blanchard of Chooch's Chicos responded: "We know Carlos is from Panama, not Mexico, so we hung a Panamanian flag on our co-founder, Brian Bouchard, who wore it proudly.
"I had to find 30 sombreros in a hurry, which I lucked into in a Halloween store, because we wanted our whole Section 309 to be part of the party, and also because we hoped that people wouldn't give us a hard time about blocking their view with sombreros if they were wearing them, too."
Chooch's Chicos held signs reading "Senor Octobre" and "Grande Cojones" to honor Ruiz's clutch playing. They even put a fake mustache on the only Chica (girl) in the Chicos - Blanchard's wife, Lisa.
"It's easy to be just another guy in an [Chase] Utley tee," Blanchard said. "That's not us."
Blanchard, 47, has been a Phillies fan since he was a little kid and his dad took him to his first game at the Vet.
"We had 700-level seats in the outfield," he said. "I was sitting there with my glove, thinking, 'There's just no way I'm going to get a home-run ball up here.' I was really bummed out."
Alfonso, 27, the proud owner of a Carlos Ruiz Chest Protector School Bag, said that, like his Chooch-Chooch Train colleagues - all from Kensington and Port Richmond - he grew up with the Phillies.
"I was raised by a single mother and I always had baseball to turn to, growing up with friends," Alfonso said. "My buddy Jack and I would recreate Phillies plays. I'd be John Kruk and he would be Mickey Morandini.
"God, I wish I were a kid again."