It shouldn’t have come as a surprise Tuesday night that the black clouds, lightning and thunder merely circled around Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium and the heavy rain that pelted much of Berks County and points south and east never forced a tarp call.
Carlos Ruiz was there to be inducted into Baseballtown’s Hall of Fame.
The revered former Phillies catcher lived a charmed baseball life since coming to the organization as a 19-year-old with a year of experience at the position.
The Panama native caught a perfect game, a playoff no-hitter and the last out of a World Series-clinching game in the next decade.
“Everyone wants to play in the major leagues and in all sports you want to win a championship,” Ruiz said. “It was special for the Phillies, for myself, for Panama because everyone back there was waiting for that moment.
“I remember I was crying almost the whole night [after winning the World Series].”
Ruiz’s career took off in 2004, his second season in Reading, and didn’t end until 2017 after 12 major league seasons, more than 10 with Philadelphia.
He was never the most talented. He never had the biggest contract. But Ruiz was embraced by the city and fan base because his effort was there every night. He scrapped. He fought. He hustled.
It is why those “Chooch” chants echoed throughout Citizens Bank Park every time he came to the plate.
Ruiz reached Double-A Reading in 2003, but played behind Edgar Cruz and Russ Jacobson. Those two combined to play in two Triple-A games. Ruiz, meanwhile, grinded through the learning curve. He was a sponge, listening to every coach’s instruction. He worked through the language barrier with the American-born pitchers.
By 2004, he was a major league catching prospect close to realizing his dream.
“That was a special year for me,” Ruiz said, “because it was my best minor league season and I became a big part of the roster.”
Two years later, he was in the majors.
Two years after that, he was a World Series champion.
Ruiz often was linked to the late Roy Halladay because of the special bond the battery mates formed. It was fitting that the last Phillies playoff game (Game 5 loss in the 2011 National League Division Series) included eight innings of Halladay throwing 126 pitches to Ruiz.
But he was more than a solid backstop with a career .994 fielding percentage.
The 42-year-old slashed .266/.352/.393/.745 in 1,069 games. He batted .353 with seven extra-base hits in 11 World Series games with the Phillies.
Ruiz had crucial postseason hits against the Dodgers in 2008 and ‘09.
He will, however, be fondly remembered for jumping into a kneeling Brad Lidge’s arms after the final out of the 2008 World Series and throwing a strike to first base from his knees to complete Halladay’s 2010 playoff no-hitter against the Reds.
Ruiz smiled often during Tuesday night’s 20-minute press conference because his life is still pretty darn good. He’s got a horse farm and helps run a construction company in his native country. He spends a lot of time with his family, including his son Carlos Jr., who was by his side Tuesday. His body has not failed him despite the abuse that comes from the position he played for two decades.
And his mind is full of so many good memories since he started catching in red pinstripes.
Ruiz always recognized his strengths as player. He still understands his limitations.
“I feel great,” he said. “I started catching late so that helped. I played in Panama two years ago and we won the championship and I caught every game.
“They asked me about this year, but I told them my shoes are already hung up.”
For one more time in rainy Baseballtown, however, Ruiz was in a Reading jersey behind home plate at FirstEnergy Stadium and recognized with an enthusiastically loud Chooch call and Phil Collins’ ‘In the air tonight’ playing in the background.
Charlie Manuel, Phillies manager during the franchise’s most successful period, said it best.
“I always thought Chooch was a better hitter than catcher,” he said during Tuesday’s postgame induction ceremony. “But when he got to the major leagues, he worked hard. Every pitcher on our team, we had some really good ones, got better because of him.”
Morning Call reporter Tom Housenick can be reached at 610-820-6651 or at email@example.com