CLEVELAND -- There sat a wide-eyed 18-year-old in a turquoise shirt, a silver chain dangling from his neck. His voice quivered as he spoke softly in the dugout, frequently flashing a big smile as bright as his future.
Cleveland was supposed to be a quick pit stop for Brian Ruiz, a short layover on the flight from humble beginnings to a sterling future.
Now, it appears it could be his long-term residence.
Ruiz will have to work his way up the organizational ladder, but should he realize his dream of playing in the Major Leagues, there's a good chance he'll do so for his hometown Indians.
|"My mom wanted to have a better future for us, so we could have a better education. In the Dominican, your dream is to come to America."|
|-- Brian Ruiz|
Ruiz has come quite a long way.
"My dream was always to be a professional baseball player," Ruiz said.
That dream became more than just a nightly stream of consciousness when he used any instruments at his disposal to play baseball as often as he could as a kid in the Dominican Republic.
"We didn't have a ball or bat," Ruiz said. "We used a sock, we used it with a rock inside. We just played the whole day. We would find something to play with."
When Ruiz was 13, his mother moved his family to the United States. She chose Cleveland, where several of her distant relatives already resided.
"My mom wanted to have a better future for us, so we could have a better education," Ruiz said. "In the Dominican, your dream is to come to America."
It wasn't utopia, however. Ruiz had to leave behind everything he knew and start a new life in unfamiliar surroundings. He had to adjust to a foreign culture in an area where he didn't know anyone.
"It was hard to leave," Ruiz said. "It's like a new life. But when I got here, it was tough, because I started missing my friends, my family, my school."
Baseball eased the pain.
Ruiz attended Lincoln-West High School, where he was named Player of the Year in the Senate Athletic League during his final two years. His senior season, he batted .600, while using a wooden bat and leading the Wolverines to the Division I district semifinals, the farthest a Cleveland public school has advanced in 24 years.
With harsh winters soaking up much of the Cleveland calendar, Ruiz didn't have the advantage prospective players do in warm-weather cities, where athletes can train and compete year-round. That has left Ruiz a bit behind the eight ball.
"Having played in Cleveland, you don't get as consistent quality competition," said Junie Melendez, an area scouting supervisor for the Indians. "That's why the next few years are going to be vital for his development."
Ruiz headed out to the Indians' Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., on Thursday. There, he began his development into what the Tribe hopes is a five-tool outfielder.
Melendez admits Ruiz has a long road ahead of him.
"He's going to have to make adjustments, just like every high-school hitter coming into the pros," Melendez said. "But we like his approach. We feel he has a chance, once he develops physically, to be a guy with average and power.
"He's got a lot of assets, a lot of tools, that can play at the next level. It's just a matter of playing every day and getting adjusted to the pro life, the pro schedule and giving him opportunities for those tools to surface."
After watching Ruiz train, Melendez is convinced he's well on his way.
"His work ethic has gone to another level," Melendez said. "He basically lived in that indoor facility. He hit until his hands bled."
It's not as if Ruiz hasn't had to adapt to new surroundings and expectations before. With a potential professional career in Cleveland a blinding bright light at the end of the tunnel, Ruiz doesn't need much extra motivation.
"It's my hometown team, my favorite team," Ruiz said. "It's great."
Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.