NEW YORK – A.J. Ellis started (and starred in) his first game for the Phillies on Sunday afternoon (see game recap).
Carlos Ruiz has already been in the Dodgers’ lineup.
Initial reactions to the swap of backup catchers on Thursday has subsided, but there are still anecdotes worth sharing as it pertains to Ruiz’s impact in the Phillies’ clubhouse.
Here are a couple, compliments of Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis.
According to Franco, Ruiz viewed it as his responsibility to help young Latin players learn the ropes in the big leagues.
When Franco, a native of the Dominican Republic, came to the big leagues for the first time two years ago, Ruiz, from Panama, immediately reached out to him. Franco was just 22. Ruiz was 35 and had eight major-league seasons on his resume and a World Series ring on his finger.
The Phillies were on a road trip and Ruiz told Franco to meet him in the hotel lobby one morning. They got in a cab and ended up at a stylish mall where Ruiz proceeded to purchase Franco some road attire – a suit, some nice shirts and a couple of ties.
“It was a beautiful thing he did for me,” Franco said. “Chooch was so good to me. I will never forget that day.
“The day he got traded, I called him. He had trouble talking because he was emotional. He almost cried. That boy is different. He’s special.
“I still have the suit. It is even more special now.”
Galvis also felt the warmth of Ruiz’s generosity.
He unexpectedly made the big club out of spring training in 2012 as a fill-in for injured Chase Utley.
There’s a lot of learning in your first season in the majors. Ruiz became Galvis’ tour guide.
“Every time we went to a new ballpark, he made sure to go with me on the first day so I would know where the entrance was, how to get to the clubhouse, things like that,” Galvis said. “He was always looking out for you.”
When Galvis broke camp with the club, he told Galvis, ‘You’re in the major leagues, you have to look good.’
“He took me out and bought me four suits, eight shirts and eight ties,” Galvis said with wide eyes.
That’s better than Franco did.
“Well, I was the only young guy on the team at that time,” Galvis said. “Chooch was good to me. That’s why I was sad to see him go, but also happy because he has a chance to win another World Series.”
Galvis, from Venezuela, and Ruiz were like brothers. At the all-star break in 2015, Galvis traveled to Panama with Ruiz for a few days of R&R.
In January, Ruiz is planning to travel back to Panama. Ruiz and his wife are expecting a child.
“I am going to be the godfather,” Galvis said proudly.
The way Jahad Thomas remembers it, the football culture in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was vibrant. Friday night meant flocking to Williams Field to watch Elizabeth High School play. In Elizabeth, football dominates while basketball and baseball take a back seat.
Elizabeth has produced several NFL players, including former Eagles defensive coordinator and Jets head coach Todd Bowles, but two that came to mind for Thomas are linebacker Khaseem Greene and running back Raymond Graham, both of whom he watched growing up.
"You know, every Friday night, we looked forward to going to them games after Pop Warner practice," Thomas said. "And just knowing that we were going to be in those shoes one day … just knowing that we had some big shoes to fill, we just loved it. We grasped the opportunity and took advantage of it."
Thomas, Temple's top offensive weapon, finds himself in a position where the Owls will have to find someone to fill his shoes soon enough. Now, the senior tailback is among the Owls' core leadership group with three sophomore running backs behind him who are expected to receive their fair amount of touches in 2016.
Both Thomas and head coach Matt Rhule said Temple will be employing a rotation in the backfield with Thomas, Ryquell Armstead, Jager Gardner and David Hood. Rhule called Armstead a "co-starter," Hood a "jack-of-all-trades" and also praised Gardner.
"They are game-ready now," Rhule said of the sophomores. "They're battle-tested a little bit more, so we'll put them in there and not even think about it."
As for Thomas, the plan still is to use him as the feature back, but move him around the field to create mismatches and other creative ways to get him the ball in space. With the depth Temple has at running back, it allows offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas the opportunity to put Thomas in the slot and not lose much by not having him in the backfield.
For Thomas, who was hurt a bit last season, the committee also allows him a chance to make plays but also help preserve his body without having to carry the ball 20 times per game.
It'd be easy for Thomas to be selfish after rushing for 1,262 yards and 1,677 all-purpose yards, third most in program history, and scoring 19 total touchdowns last season. But with Rhule asking more from him in a leadership role, he's embracing guiding Armstead, Gardner and Hood and wants to set a standard for the trio to follow.
"Just being a mentor to them guys," Thomas said. "Just show them how guys before me showed me when they were here, just lead by example, show them what a leader is. I've been here four years. I've seen a lot, I've been through a lot here. Just try to be those guys' older brother. That's what I try to be for those guys."
Last season, while Thomas was the star of the group, Hood, a redshirt sophomore, did contribute when called upon. Against Tulane, a Temple blowout victory, the 5-foot-9 tailback ran for 47 yards on 16 carries, mainly in mop-up duty, while adding a 10-yard touchdown reception.
When Thomas, dealing with some bumps and bruises, struggled against Memphis, Rhule turned to the hot hand in Hood, who rewarded the head coach with a 14-61-1 day on the ground.
Hood described Temple's backfield as group that brings a little bit of everything. Both Armstead and Gardner are power backs, Hood said, while Thomas and himself can do it all.
"We just got a lot of guys who are ready to go attack," said Hood, who had 272 all-purpose yards and two total touchdowns in 2015. "We got a lot of depth, so there's always competition every day, just fighting for a spot. Everyone is talented and able to be a starter, so every day it's lace up and play your best to get the spot."
The Owls' offense lost a dimension with the loss of lead wideout Robby Anderson, who went undrafted but is currently enjoying a fine preseason with the New York Jets.
While the younger players such as Ventell Bryant and Adonis Jennings will be relied on to help out the passing attack, the running game is the heart of the offense Rhule wants to deploy. And the Owls know how dangerous they can be on the ground with what senior quarterback Phillip Walker, a longtime teammate of Thomas' dating back to as far back as high school, called a "four-headed monster."
"At any moment, any one of them can have a big game," said Walker, who himself remains a key compenent of Temple's offense (see story). "Jager had a big game last year vs. SMU. Ryquell was just consistent each game every time he played last year. Jahad just had a great season. And David Hood stepped in when Jahad got hurt vs. Memphis and played well and blocked very well on third down.
"You don't know what you're going to get from those guys each week. You just come to expect that they're all going to play good. I think we have a good group of guys and they're all consistent."
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- As Ryan Harlost stepped to the mound on Sunday, he took it all in.
Chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A!" droned over his left shoulder as he dipped it to deliver a warm-up pitch. South Korean arms and flags waved furiously to his right. Little kids who asked for his autograph earlier in the week used makeshift sleds to slide down the hill toward most of the 22,000-plus fans who packed Lamade Stadium.
The Endwell, New York, pitcher admitted it made him uneasy. He sure didn't show it.
Harlost led New York to the Little League World Series title, striking out eight and limiting South Korea to five hits in six innings in a 2-1 victory. He scored the deciding run on a passed ball in the fourth inning.
"I was a little nervous at first in front of a lot of people but it's just another game and I felt confident going in," Harlost said.
But it was more than just another game.
Endwell snapped a five-year championship drought for U.S. teams on Little League's biggest stage and gave New York its first title since 1964. Huntington Beach, California, won in 2011 and Mid Island from Staten Island won New York's last World Series championship.
Conner Rush had the New York team's only RBI to give Endwell a lead it wouldn't relinquish in the bottom of the fourth. Harlost (2-0) scored the deciding run on a passed ball a batter later.
"I was just thinking get it in play any way you can," Rush said. "Once that happens, you never know what can happen."
For a while, it didn't look like New York hitters would be able to hit anything.
Junho Jeong (1-2) gave up two runs on four hits and struck out nine for South Korea (4-2). He was unflappable for most of the afternoon, working the outside of the plate masterfully for 3 1/3 innings of no-hit ball before Jude Abbadessa broke through in the fourth.
Waking to the plate as Endwell fans along the first base side bellowed "Juuude!" Abbadessa broke up the righty's no-hit bid with a single to center. Harlost followed with a liner to the same spot and Rush plated the go-ahead run with a hit that fell in behind the shortstop. Harlost raced home to give New York a 2-0 lead one batter later.
"It's just been amazing," Abbadessa said. "Just coming here would be amazing and then our team doing well is even more amazing. It's been fun the whole week and we're glad that it turned out this way."
Yoomin Lee homered for the Asia-Pacific champs from Seoul to halve New York's lead in the fifth. Harlost's precision and a stingy New York defense prevented further damage.
In the second, right fielder James Fellows made a running grab at the warning track to rob Sangheon Park of an extra base hit. With a runner on first an inning later, Harlost snagged a hard-hit liner at the mound, tossed to first to get the putout and escape the third unscathed.
Later in the fifth after Yoomin's blast halved the score, Abbadessa scooped up a grounder that took an awkward bounce and threw to first for final out of the inning.
"The Mid-Atlantic team is a really good defensive team," South Korean manager Heesu Ji said. "I'm really proud of my team."
Minho Choi struck out with runners on first and second to end the game.
Harlost turned toward his dugout on the first-base side but didn't make it there as his teammates rushed out to dogpile on him near the base line.
Most of New York's players had been on other teams together before. More than half of them were on the team that fell to last year's World Series runner-up Red Land in the Mid-Atlantic Region Championship, leaving them one win shy of qualifying for a trip to South Williamsport.
"It was all of our last years of Little League," Rush said. "So it's just awesome to know that we all came together to be the best team in the world."