Ben Ruta has been a key cog for the Charleston RiverDogs this year. Unfortunately for him though, he had to leave the first game of a doubleheader against the Hagerstown Suns on July 20 with wrist pain. After further examination, it was discovered that Ruta had broken the hamate bone in his right wrist that will require surgery and will most likely end his 2017 campaign.
“Tough end to his year. There may be a chance we get him back very late in the year. Ben did a great job this year in all three phases, baserunning, defense, offense. He did a great job for us, provided some depth in the outfield. We’re going to miss him,” RiverDogs manager Patrick Osborn said.
Even though the injury may cut his season short, it doesn’t diminish the strides he made to improve his game. Ruta was drafted in the 30th round of 2016 draft by the New York Yankees. So far in his short pro career, he’s been playing way above his draft position.
Ruta’s story starts in Princeton, NJ growing up a New York Yankees fan. So when the Yankees came calling, Ruta was excited. “I was ecstatic because that was my childhood favorite team so when I heard that they took me, it was a dream come true for sure. I couldn’t ask for a better organization to draft me,” Ruta said.
Ruta was drafted out of Wagner College. Wagner is located in Staten Island and its baseball program share a ballpark with the Staten Island Yankees at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. When Ruta was picking where to play college, it came down to two schools. “I only considered one other school which was Monmouth. Those were the only two offers that I had, so it really came down between Monmouth and Wagner. I really wanted to go to a four-year school and get a good education, so I liked what Wagner had to offer and it worked out from there.”
At Wagner, Ruta excelled and was First-Team All-NEC his senior season posting a .343 batting average to go along with a .439 on-base percentage. Playing in the Yankees’ backyard certainly helped his cause. “I think it did, through the scout (Cesar Presbott) I had talked to the most, he was always there, the pre-draft workout was also at Richmond County. It definitely helped a little bit. I’d say it got me on the radar a little bit.” Wagner wasn’t sure who was going to take him, if anyone. “I was talking to about half the teams. I didn’t know if I’d get picked at all or who would pick me, so it was a bit of a waiting game, so I was happy when the Yankees took me.”
The Yankees assigned Ruta to Rookie level Pulaski to start his career. “The competition was definitely a step up in regards to college. Everyone’s throwing harder, more movement on the pitches and the atmosphere was great there as well, they had a good fan base (in Pulaski). It was fun to jump up a level of competition and see if you can compete.” Ruta played 13 games in Pulaski hitting .283 while picking up a double, triple and a home run in his short stint.
Ruta’s efforts in Pulaski earned him a trip back to his familiar stomping grounds in Staten Island and Richmond County Bank Ballpark. “It was a cool feeling because it was a lot different experience playing with a whole new group of guys. I was used to playing with my college teammates for four years and now dreaming of playing with the real team and then you finally get there and you kind of try to just soak it all in and enjoy with your family watching.”
Ruta was assigned to extended spring to begin the season and then was sent to the Charleston RiverDogs on May 8. Ruta used his offseason to learn from his first professional season to get ready for 2017. “Definitely by using what I learned in my first season in short season, there was a lot of ups and downs and was able to take a step back this offseason and look at what worked, what didn’t, what I needed to work on so instead of working harder, I needed to work smarter and that helped me prepare for this season.”
Heading into this season, Ruta felt much more comfortable as he’s playing with a lot of the same teammates he had last year. “You definitely start to build relationships with people and it’s not like just playing with a bunch of random guys. You get to know people, you get to know their families, their backgrounds. You get to start to root for them to do well and you kind of know what they’ve been through and what you’ve been through to get here and that’s something nice about relationships like that.”
With Charleston, Ruta has slashed a .273/.323/.302. Ruta has also stolen 11 bases in 16 attempts. His approach at the plate is to give the pitcher all he can handle. “Be a tough out when I step in the box. When I step in the box, it’s never going to be an easy at-bat for that pitcher. If it’s 0-2, I’m not intimidated, I want him to make him make his best pitch and he’s going to have to fight to get me out. That’s kind of my mentality. Staying loose and staying in my legs and kind of expanding on what I worked on this offseason. Allowing my hands to work and make a lot of contact and spray the whole field with line drives.”
Ruta shows great range in the outfield defensively using his speed, but he’s been working to improve tracking the ball. “Definitely first step reads and just trying to cover as much ground, get my legs moving and take the eye off the ball and be able to pick it back up to gain a couple of more steps. Anyway to improve on your range in the game and help the pitchers out.”
Ruta praises his coaching staff in Charleston for helping him improve his game this year. “It’s a phenomenal staff here. Os (manager Patrick Osborn) is great, he keeps everyone loose. As for offensively, we have new hitting coach Ty (Hawkins). He’s awesome, Ken (Joyce) was awesome, he was great. Javy (Jose Javier) has really been helping me out with the base stealing which is something I’ve definitely improved tremendously from last year and trying to keep improving in. We have a really well rounded staff and they’re really fun to play for. They try to keep everything loose.”
Ruta’s successes have also been a result of preparation in the offseason. “I think I’m playing better because I have more confidence in myself and confidence in the work that I put in during the offseason and when you start seeing some results, you really hit the ground running. Just trying to stay loose and believing in yourself, you really can just show your true abilities on the field.”
Ruta has also adopted to Charleston well and participated in HOPE Week, which is a program the RiverDogs participate with in conjunction with the Yankees. Members of the team visit local charities and volunteer in the community during the week, which ran from May 25-30. Ruta visited the Lowcountry Children’s Museum in conjunction with the Family Connection charity. Family Connection supports families with children with disabilities or have special healthcare needs.
“It was a great experience to be able to give back. It’s pretty inspiring when you see other people and what they go through. You kind of have your own sense of reality and then it kind of takes you out of it and you see that maybe you’re zero for your last 10, is that really so bad? It kind of lets you take a step back and see how fortunate you are and it just feels great to give back,” Ruta said.
Ruta also talked about how important the fans in Charleston are in terms of how they help the team during the long season. “We love when they come to the game, it’s fun to play in front of an atmosphere like that. They bring a great vibe to the park. It’s a long season, it’s a good pick-me-up when they get into the game and we just want them to know that we hear them and we appreciate it.”