What do current Duck Randy Ruiz and Derek Jeter have in common? They're both playing for former teammates.
While Jeter takes orders from Joe Girardi in the Bronx, Ruiz, a Bronx native, is playing for former Puerto Rican League teammate Kevin Baez.
Ruiz, a first baseman and DH, was signed by the Ducks on May 20 after being released by his Mexican League team, Toros de Tijuana. In his first 59 at-bats with the Ducks, spanning 14 games, Ruiz hit .305 with three home runs and 11 RBIs.
The 36-year-old was chosen by the Mets in the 36th round of the 1996 draft. He is in his 16th season of professional baseball.
Ruiz made his major-league debut in 2008 with Minnesota and spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues with the Twins and Blue Jays. He hit .272 with 12 home runs and 25 RBIs in 68 games. Ruiz also played three seasons in the Japan Pacific League, where he was a teammate of Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka. He suited up in 71 games last season for Triple-A Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre in the Yankees' system, hitting.274 with 17 home runs and 42 RBIs.
What's it like playing for Baez, your former teammate?
I've always looked up to and respected him. He's a New York boy and I'm a New York boy. He was a superstar in Puerto Rico. I was excited to come here and play for him. He's a guy with a lot of experience who knows what he's doing. It's great to be here with him.
How do you like hitting at Bethpage Ballpark?
No ballpark is the same, but you come over here and you think, 'Wow, this is great.' I wasn't expecting an independent team to have a great ballpark like this, but looking around the whole league, [the ballparks] are great.
How do pitchers in the Atlantic League compare to other leagues you've played in?
It's a competitive league. Baseball is baseball. You have a lot of ex-major-leaguers here, players that have been there and done that. You can't take this league for granted. I couldn't come over here and think I was going to kill the league. It's not like that. It's more of doing your job, working hard and helping your team win games.
What was it like being teammates with Tanaka?
He was my lockermate. The guy was energetic, lovable and giving. He was a great guy. He helped American guys a lot. He's an American-type pitcher. He threw hard and has a nice forkball. He's good all around. I knew he was going to make it. He was young at the time and was a superstar over there . . . I didn't keep in contact with him because the language barrier was difficult. But I know if he saw me, he'd remember me.
Do you have any memories from your time in the majors that stand out?
When I got called up with the Toronto Blue Jays and played at Yankee Stadium in front of my family. I was playing somewhere that I was born and raised next to. That was great. My first two at-bats were home runs. It was awesome because my family was there and I got to do something I dreamt about doing.