Never Say Never: Ruiz Lives Childhood Dream with Hometown Cleveland Indians
Laurel Wilder | On 05, Jun 2014
It’s a dream that many young boys have growing up – to play for their hometown Major League baseball team. They spend their childhoods attending games and watching their heroes on the field, hoping, wishing, that one day, that could be them.
Brian Ruiz had that same dream. Although he only moved to Cleveland when he was 13 years old, the outfielder knew that he wanted to play in the big leagues, just like the athletes he saw wearing Cleveland Indians jerseys in his new hometown.
Ruiz was born in the Dominican Republic, but moved to the United States with his family in his teenage years so his family could have a better life. His mother had family in Cleveland, so Brian found himself transported from the Dominican Republic to his new home in Ohio.
“I was just a normal kid who grew up in the DR,” Ruiz said of his childhood. “I was a middle class guy, I wasn’t poor, wasn’t rich – my parents worked to make sure we had a roof over our heads and food to eat. My mom always told us the U.S. was a better life for us, where we would have a better education.”
The transition to the United States wasn’t easy for Ruiz, who said he didn’t know any English upon his arrival. He remembered a time that all the students in his classroom were laughing at something, but he was the only one who didn’t – and couldn’t – understand the joke. He said that the language barrier didn’t stop him, however, from pursuing his passion of baseball, his passion that knew no language differences.
Ruiz, who played baseball in the Dominican with any sort of equipment that could be found, said that he continued his passion for the game once he arrived in Cleveland. He played with a goal, he said, always knowing that he wanted to a big league ball player – although others around him told him he wouldn’t make it.
Ruiz went to Lincoln-West, which he described as not the best school from a behavior standpoint. However, he focused on baseball and did not allow himself to be distracted by things happening around him.
“I always wanted to be a professional baseball player, a big leaguer,” Ruiz said. “A lot of people at Lincoln-West were trying to pull me down – they told me that no one in the history of Lincoln-West had been drafted after one person in 1972 – no one else made it after that. They told me to go to another school if I wanted to make it. But I was a competitor.”
“I said, ‘I’m going to do it here, man. God put me here, I’m going to do it here,’” Ruiz said. “I was working hard, going with my bat and my hands all winter. A lot of people were making fun of me, but I was doing what I wanted, and keeping the faith that I was going to get drafted.”
He played to prove himself to his teammates, to his coaches, to his family, to scouts – to anyone who would watch. He played to prove to himself that he could – and would – achieve his dream. At Lincoln-West, Ruiz was named Player of the Year in the senate Athletic League during his final two years with the team. He batted .600 in his senior season (with a wooden bat) and led his team to the Division I district semifinals, which was the farthest a Cleveland public school has advanced in 24 years. Ruiz said the chance to play in that championship game was amazing and made him wonder what it would be like to play professionally.
Following his senior year, Ruiz received the news he had been waiting for, the icing on the cake that was his senior season – he was drafted in the 41st round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Indians. He said a couple scouts had come to his games to watch him, but he wasn’t expecting anything. Thus, it came as a major – but welcome – surprise when he learned of his fate.
“I was mowing my lawn [during the draft],” Ruiz remember. “When I was done and checked my phone, I had a ton of messages telling me I got drafted by the Cleveland Indians. I can’t describe that feeling.”
“I can’t describe that feeling,” Ruiz repeated wistfully. “I know I’m a man, but I cried. All those people who said I wouldn’t make it, and to make it with the hometown team – it was even bigger.” Ruiz said he also enjoyed the chance to be a role model and motivation for younger students and players at Lincoln-West.
Ruiz spent his first season with the Indians (2012) in Arizona, where he hit .147 in 15 games. He had five hits, one double, and knocked in two runs with one stolen base. In 2013, he moved up to play with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. There, he hit .132 with 12 hits, two doubles, and four RBI.
2014 has brought Ruiz to the Lake County Captains, where he is embarking on his first full-season professional career. In 39 games with the Captains, the outfielder is hitting a career-best .248, with 33 hits, five doubles, and one triple. He has hit in eight runs, has walked eight times, and been fanned on 44 occasions. He is triple slashing .306/.301/.606 on the season.
Ruiz admitted that he struggled in his early seasons with the Indians. “The game is faster [as you move up],” Ruiz said. “There’s better talent. I struggled my first two years here as I was getting used to professional baseball. But I know I just have to keep working and focus on the pluses.”
Lake County Manager Mark Budzinski said that Ruiz is a strong asset to the Lake County roster. He said Ruiz is a “grinder” who comes to the field ready to play every day.
“He gets the most out of his abilities as he can. He approaches everything very seriously and gets everything he can out of it,” Budzinski said.
This past week, Ruiz got his first taste of playing in the Major League stadium when he was able to stand in to hit off Zach McAllister during the pitcher’s simulated game at Progressive Field on Friday afternoon. For a kid who once was told he would never make it as a professional athlete, he got his first chance to see what it will feel like when he proves them wrong.
“You have to have faith that all the work you put in is going to come out one day, that one day is going to be your day,” Ruiz said. “Everything that I went through, and the struggle I went through was necessary. I am a better man, a better person, and I’m better at what I’m doing. I’ve got a long way to go, and I’m only going to get better.”