Yesterday morning my next door neighbor, the one who has 30 (that’s right, count ‘em, THIRTY) fighting cocks, was out in his front yard letting some of his roosters have a sparring session.
There were three or four other men who were not from the neighborhood standing around watching. I ambled on over. I’ve had a bit of an interest in cockfighting since my paternal grandfather used to raise and fight the birds in and around Woburn, Mass. back at least into the early 1950s. It was, of course, highly illegal.
Anyway, I asked when he was going to fight them for real the next time and he said, “Tomorrow night at Las Brisas.” Las Brisas is a “Jardin (a combination bar and dance hall often with a cockfighting pit) in David, right on the bus route into the city. I said I’d really like to see him fight his birds but transportation was a problem since I don’t have a car. A young, solidly built young man in the crowd said, in English, “you really want to go?” I said I did and explained about my grandfather and his birds. “I’ll take you,” the young man said.
I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. “I’m Carlos,” he said. We talked for a little bit, me using a combination of English and Spanish since I honestly feel it’s impolite to speak to Panamanians in English and try my best to talk with them in Spanish. All of my neighbors only speak Spanish so I stretch myself all the time. But Carlos spoke to me only in English.
I asked where he learned his English. “In the States,” he said.
“Where in the States?”
“Really. What do you do there?” I asked.
“I play for the Phillies,” he said.
Now, I’m not a big baseball fan. Oh, I like it well enough but I don’t follow it and I think Ted Williams and Don Drysdale are the most recent players I could name. Back in the mid 70s when I spent two summers running a 300-passenger sightseeing boat in Chicago I lived just a few blocks from Wrigley Field and I’d go catch a couple of games. Not so much that I liked baseball, but it was a nice way to spend an afternoon. Those were the days before Wrigley put in lights so naturally all of the games were played during the day as God meant the game to be played, and it only cost $3 for a general-admission grandstand seat. I could sit in the shade and watch pretty girls walking around and people would bring beer, hotdogs and peanuts to my seat. Sometimes I’d even watch the action on the field.
So, being totally ignorant of who I was talking, to we watched the birds spar for a while and I wandered back to the house. “I’ll be here at seven tomorrow,” Carlos said, “if you want to go.”
“See you then,” I said.
Back home I went on line, checked out the Phillies roster and found out the young man’s name is Carlos Ruiz, and he’s quite a guy. He’s the team’s starting catcher.
A champion, in fact since the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, and Carlos had a big hand in doing it.
In game three he hit his first post-season home run and then in the ninth he recorded a walk-off single, sending Eric Bruntlett home from third, becoming the fourth National League player to hit a bases-loaded walk-off hit in World Series history, the first to deliver a walk-off infield hit, and the first walk-off of any kind by a Phillies player in the World Series. ( A walk off is a hit that ends the game. It must be a hit that gives the home team the lead, and consequently, the win, in the bottom of the final inning of the game—either the ninth inning, or any extra inning, or any other regularly scheduled final inning. It is called a “walk-off” because both teams walk off the field immediately afterward, rather than finishing the inning.)
In 2007, Carlos had one of the highest fielding percentages in baseball among catchers with a .997, with only 2 errors in 744 chances. On June 26, 2007, Ruiz stole home on the front end of a double steal in an 11–4 home win over the Cincinnati Reds, becoming the first Phillie to steal home in 10 years and the first Phillies catcher to steal home in 25 years.
In 2010, he became the only player of Panamanian descent to catch a perfect game, and raised his season batting average to a career-best .302.
Ruiz caught Roy Halladay’s perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins and Halladay’s no-hitter against the Reds in the first game of the National League Divisional Series on October 6, 2010. In so doing, he became the first man since the Chicago Cubs’ Randy Hundley in 1972, to catch two no-hitters during the same season and the first since Yogi Berra in 1951 to catch two no-hitters by the same pitcher during the same season On August 12, 2010, when the Phillies were down 9–2 going into the 8th inning, they scored 8 runs in the 8th inning. The following inning, the bottom of the 9th, the Phillies were tied and Ruiz hit a walk off double to win the game, 10–9.
In 2010, Carlos received the Pride of Philadelphia Award from the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2011, he was rated the most underrated catcher in baseball by Jason Stark of ESPN. One scout in the MLB quoted, “I think he’s the best catcher in the game – other than [Joe] Mauer, who’s on a different planet.”
Born here in David, Chiricanos are rightfully proud of their native son as should all Panamanians. I’m honored to be riding to the cockfights with him this evening.