Ruiz feels at home in Lake County
CLEVELAND — Brian Ruiz's family took advantage of opportunity when it moved from the Dominican Republic to Cleveland. Now, Ruiz is seizing the opportunity to play professional baseball with his hometown team.
Ruiz, 21, was selected by the Indians in the 41st round of the 2011 draft, a year before Major League Baseball trimmed the draft from 50 to 40 rounds. The 6-foot-3 outfielder attended Lincoln West High School on Cleveland's West Side, where he hit .600 during his final season — with a wooden bat. That year, Lincoln West advanced to its Division 1 final.
The Ruiz family moved to Cleveland from the Dominican Republic in 2007 just as Brian was turning 14. The transition wasn't easy, considering Brian barely knew a syllable of English. Once he adapted, Ruiz said he and his family found a better life.
"Here in the United States, you've got more opportunity," Ruiz explained. "The Dominican Republic is a great country. I feel proud to be from my country, it's got a lot of beautiful stuff, but for us, as a family, it was better to come to the United States because we wanted a better future.
"With different people and different culture, you have to start knowing new people, new friends," Ruiz added. "But it's about timing and you get used to it."
Ruiz continues to live at home on the city's West Side, just 30 minutes from Classic Park, home of the low-A Lake County Captains. Ruiz was assigned to the Captains to begin the 2014 season. Last year, he spent time in Niles with the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers, where he hit .132 through 32 games.
Ruiz doesn't feel any added pressure playing in front of the familiar faces of a hometown crowd.
"Not at all," he said. "I feel more confident when I'm at home, because I'd already seen all the teams before I was with the Indians, so I kind of know the atmosphere around here. It makes me feel proud," he said.
Ruiz also said sleeping in his own bed and eating his own choice in meals has been beneficial. Spending time with his family may be the biggest benefit of playing close to home, especially with a brand new baby in the house.
On June 28, Ruiz's wife, Zoed, gave birth to Zahir Ruiz, the couple's first child. Now, Ruiz is balancing fatherhood with baseball. His average sits at .253 through 54 games this season, but his focus is simply to keep improving.
Defensively, Ruiz said he's working on fielding ground balls from the outfield. He said he just needs some more confidence at the plate.
The Captains are three weeks past the season's halfway mark, but Ruiz said he's finding ways to push through his first full-length season. He said sticking to a routine to reduce the wear of spending months on the diamond has made a difference.
"That happens, but when you have a good routine and can be consistent with your routine, at times, you don't even feel how fast the time goes by," Ruiz said.
Another important lesson Ruiz said he has learned is how to come to terms with failure.
"Struggle makes me a better person," he said. "Struggle has made me find myself and helps me in life, too. Whatever happens in life, you've got to have faith. When you go over struggle, it gives you confidence. No matter what happens, everything's going to be fine. You've just got to go through it."
The 42-55 Captains are three games back in the Midwest League second half standings and Ruiz is finding ways to contribute to their playoff push. With his career still in the making and a new baby at home, he has a lot on his plate. Playing the outfield at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario remains steps away, but fortunately, Ruiz is not far from home.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.