'Coach Chooch' has a nice ring to it | Bob Brookover
He seems the most likely of the Phillies' World Series stars to stay in baseball when he's done playing.
The start of the 2017 season has been a difficult one for the 2008 Phillies.
Jimmy Rollins, after signing a minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants over the winter, did not make it to opening day before being released. Ryan Howard was given the briefest of looks with Atlanta's triple-A team before being told no thanks this week. Cole Hamels is on the disabled list and Chase Utley is not even averaging a hit per week.
The former World Series champions were in need of a happy occasion and they got one Tuesday night with a Hallmark card moment between the fans at Citizens Bank Park and the catcher known as Chooch. It was Carlos Ruiz's turn to take a bow for a job well done, and if you saw that coming the day the native Panamanian signed with the Phillies for $8,000, you must have supernatural scouting powers.
"Wow, unreal," said Sal Agostinelli, the international scouting director who signed Ruiz. "You thank God for him."
The Phillies paid tribute to Ruiz before the bottom of the third inning Tuesday with a video that replayed many of the special moments during his 11-year career with the team. Ruiz was not in Seattle's starting lineup - the catching assignment went to former Phillies minor-leaguer Tuffy Gosewisch and he was booed because of it - but he did go to the top step of the dugout as the crowd rose to its feet and chanted "Chooooooooch" one more time.
The players in both dugouts joined in the standing ovation and Ruiz responded with applause of his own. He was saluted again before he flied out as a pinch-hitter in the eighth.
"These are great fans and I think when you play hard and when you do your best to win they appreciate that," Ruiz said.
This was another confirmation of that.
It's a fun little exercise to debate all sorts of things about the 2008 Phillies.
Who was the most valuable of the bunch?
Where do they rank among the greatest Phillies at their positions?
Who deserves the most Hall of Fame consideration?
Who was the most beloved?
Jayson Werth's early trips to Philadelphia this season reaffirmed his top ranking as the most loathed player from the 2008 team, and he will retire someday with that distinction. Ruiz, meanwhile, ranks No. 1 as the most unlikely of the stars. Guys who get $8,000 signing bonuses usually go away fast.
They most certainly do not go on to win starting jobs, let alone the World Series. And the All-Star Game is definitely out of the question. Ruiz did all that and so much more while also being one of the finest human beings to ever wear a Phillies uniform.
He's right up there with Brad Lidge, Jim Thome, Doug Glanville, Larry Andersen, and Darren Daulton in that department.
Ruiz showed off his good-guy side again Monday, when he arrived in town with the Mariners and invited some of his former Phillies teammates to dinner at his home in South Jersey.
"It was a special night," Ruiz said. "I was really happy to see them. We're like brothers. And I always say it doesn't matter what team I'm on, I have respect for those young guys [with the Phillies] and I really miss them. It's about family. Staying together."
The Phillies will always be Ruiz's first family because they gave him the chance of a lifetime even if it did come with a paltry signing bonus. He, of course, hit that opportunity out of the ballpark. He beat out the more experienced Rod Barajas for the starting job in 2007 and caught Lidge's final pitch of the 2008 World Series, triggering a long-awaited parade down Broad Street. Two years later, he caught Roy Halladay's perfect game in the regular season and his no-hitter in the postseason.
"A lot of good memories here," Ruiz said. "The parade. A lot of good things."
Ruiz was the classiest guy in the class of 2008 and he is probably the most likely to have a life in baseball when his playing days are done. He's obviously great with people and no one knows better than him the value of hard work.
"He's pretty much bilingual and he's got a lot to offer from his experience," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He started out as a second baseman and learned how to catch and did it very well. He can add something in the way of teaching players how to be accountable and how to play the game the right way."
A future with the Phillies has crossed Ruiz's mind.
"I definitely would like to come back to this organization," he said. "I don't know when. Before I left, they came to me and told me the door is open for me any time I want to come to Philly and work with this organization. That is big."
This was the night to remember all Ruiz had done for the Phillies, and the possibility that he might someday do even more made the moment even better.