Ryan Ruocco's summer of calling Yankees games is both happy and sad
Ryan Ruocco’s wild July ride will end on Wednesday when he calls the Yankees’ game against the Diamondbacks for the YES Network, but no matter where he goes from here it has been an experience that he would not trade.
“If these are the last Yankee games I do, I’ll still have had this amazing experience, and it probably will have led to some other incredible opportunity,” he said. “If it leads to more Yankee games down the road, that’s awesome.”
Ruocco, 32, is not lobbying for the full-time television or radio play-by-play jobs, which are occupied by two stalwarts in Michael Kay and John Sterling, respectively.
But this month has further established his credentials as Kay’s main fill-in on YES and as a candidate to succeed Sterling, 81, if he decides to retire before turning 100.
It began July 4 weekend, when Ruocco subbed for Sterling on WFAN for four games against the Rays. Sterling had been feeling unwell and took a break for the first time since 1989, when Ruocco was 3.
“The thing that stood out most to me that I felt was a huge compliment to John is the attention it got,” Ruocco said. “I’ve done a lot of cool, high-profile things that I’ve been blessed to do. But I don’t know that I’ve ever had the amount of attention on one event I’ve done like I did filling in for John.
“I think that’s because John’s voice is synonymous with Yankees baseball. So it’s jarring to hear someone other than him doing it, because we’re all so used to that. I definitely was excited and honored to get the opportunity and I also was very much aware of what a big deal it was.”
Ruocco appreciated the support he got from Sterling’s longtime partner, Suzyn Waldman.
“Suzyn was fantastic,” he said. “I cannot possibly overstate how much fun it was. She was awesome to work with. She could not have been kinder to me or easier about things.”
Sterling returned after the All-Star break, around the same time Kay was sidelined for three weeks by vocal cord surgery, during which he was not permitted to speak at all, let alone call Yankees games or host a radio show.
Ruocco customarily does play-by-play for 15 or 20 Yankees games a year, a total that will be higher this season. Counting this week’s Diamondbacks games, he will work 15 games Kay was scheduled to call.
Kay hopes to return on Friday against the Red Sox, Ruocco said, if he gets a doctor’s clearance Wednesday. Kay then would work one game of Saturday’s doubleheader and Bob Costas the other. Sunday’s game is on ESPN.
(Ruocco had been scheduled to work next week’s Orioles and Blue Jays series long before Kay’s went on leave.)
“I’m having a blast, and I absolutely love doing the games,” Ruocco said, “but I still feel bad because I know I’m doing them because my friend is hurt. It makes it a different energy going into the assignment.
“As far as actually working them, the thing that feels different is when you do a bunch of games in a row you’re able to get in a different sort of rhythm. For the most part I’m used to parachuting in and doing a series or maybe two and then parachuting out and then a week later being in a different assignment.”
The highlight so far has been last Tuesday’s 14-12, 10-inning victory over the Twins, which ended on a diving catch by Aaron Hicks.
“That was a ‘forever’ game,” he said. “To get to call that, that’s a memory I’ll have forever. The coolest part for me was sitting next to [analyst] David Cone and seeing the way he experienced that game and reacted to it.”
Ruocco generally has received positive reviews from fans on social media. As did a fellow Fordham alum, Chris Carrino, when he filled in for Sterling for one game.
“I definitely noticed it; anyone who says they don’t notice those things is lying,” Ruocco said. “I love it. I definitely feed off of the energy of positive affirmation and it felt really good to be embraced, especially by the Yankee fan, because it’s such a potent fan base and something I grew up a part of. They know baseball.”
Ruocco has a busy, varied announcing slate, including as Ian Eagle’s primary backup for the suddenly relevant Nets. So for now, he is trying to enjoy the ride and not dwell on the future.
“Ultimately, I want to be a Hall-of-Fame play-by-play guy,” he said. “That’s been my goal since I was 20 years old, and it still is. But I think that when you get locked into, ‘This is the only gig I want and I’m going to do whatever I can to get there,’ somehow you lose the coolness of what you’re experiencing right now.
“So if I was to think of it only in terms of, ‘Will I ever get to be the No. 1 guy of the Yankees, TV or radio?’ I think that cheapens how awesome it is that I get to do these games right now.”