‘Baseball is easy!’: Dodgers catcher Keibert Ruiz homers in his first MLB at-bat
On Sunday, he waited just three pitches to hit his first big league home run.
The 22-year-old catcher went deep in the third inning at Angel Stadium, banging a Julio Teheran fastball into the right-field seats to become just the seventh player in franchise history to homer in his first MLB at-bat.
“You just never know what’s going to happen when a guy takes his first major league at-bat,” manager Dave Roberts said. “[He] just put such a good swing on it, and the irony is that’s something that the hitting guys in player development have really been working with Keibert on, as far as back-spinning the baseball to the pull side. That’s exactly what he did.”
The home run, which put the Dodgers on the scoreboard en route to an 8-3 win over the Angels, was the highlight of an all-round auspicious start to Ruiz’s big league career. He worked well with starting pitcher Dustin May, one of his frequent battery partners in the minor leagues, and helped the bullpen close out the team’s fifth consecutive victory.
“I’m just really grateful to be here and keep learning,” Ruiz said, adding: “I was five years old when I started playing baseball. It’s a dream that all players have, to want to play in the big leagues.”
Few, however, dare dream of such an effectivestart.
In a one-and-one count to lead off the third inning, Ruiz clubbed Teheran’s elevated heater 395 feet down the right-field line and onto a tarp covering a section of empty seats.
“People just want to get a hit in their first AB, much less a home run,” May said. “It was phenomenal.”
As the ball cleared the fence, Dodgers reserves sitting in the stands jumped up and pumped their arms. Julio Urías ran over to help ushers find the ball beneath the thick red covering, getting on his knees to look under the seats.
Ruiz banged his chest and was welcomed back to the dugout by a parade of high-fives and pats on the back. AJ Pollock was heard by TV cameras shouting, “Baseball is easy!” Ruiz simply smiled. His first taste of the majors had only made it look that way.
“They [also] said, ‘It’s downhill from here,’” Roberts joked. In reality, it could be the beginning of the Dodgers’ latest homegrown success story.
Ranked the club’s No. 3 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Ruiz was the first Dodger to go deep in his first career at-bat since Garey Ingram on May 19, 1994. Ingram hit only two more home runs in his brief MLB career. Expectations for Ruiz, a switch-hitter who batted .299 in the minors and played just nine games above double A prior to Sunday, are exponentially higher.
“Every time Keibert has moved up a level or been challenged, he’s always stepped up and done really well,” said Dodgers’ triple-A manager Travis Barbary, a key mentor to Ruiz who has been coaching the catcher at the team’s alternate site this summer. “Yeah, it’s a surprise to see him homer in the first at-bat in the big leagues. But I’m not necessarily surprised at how he handled himself and just the way he goes about it … He doesn’t seem to get rattled by the situation.”
A native of Venezuela, Ruiz’s family wasn’t at the park Sunday. But Barbary, who watched the game from an Angel Stadium suite, was the next best thing. Ruiz spent three offseasons living with Barbary’s family in their South Carolina home, learning English to quicken a development process that began with his professional signing in 2014, when he was 16 years old.
“You forget that, yeah this guy has been with us for six years, but he’s still only 22,” Barbary said. “I’m not sure how many young kids would be willing to go live somewhere they’ve never been and spend time with a family that they don’t really know and take English classes. [But] from the moment we talked about it, he was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
When Barbary saw Ruiz on Sunday morning, he sensed that same confident serenity.
“Just a smile on his face and going about his business,” Barbary said. “I think that’s one of his best qualities as a young player. I don’t think he gets caught up in the moment.”
Ruiz let himself enjoy it afterward, however, his smile reappearing during a postgame video conference.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve got to keep working and be focused for the next time, the next opportunity.”
If Sunday was any indication, there should be plenty more.
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