PHILADELPHIA -- No matter what happens to Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz after the season, he has made a significant impact in Philadelphia.
His on-field accomplishments are well documented. He caught the slider that struck out Eric Hinske for the final out in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, giving the Phillies their second World Series championship in franchise history and Philadelphia its first championship in any major sport since 1983. The photo of "Chooch" running into Brad Lidge's arms to celebrate is already one of the most iconic sports images in city history.
Ruiz, who will be a free agent following the season, ranks fifth among Phillies catchers in doubles (169), seventh in home runs (57) and eighth in RBIs (335). Among Phillies catchers with 2,500 or more plate appearances, he is fourth out of 11 in batting average (.276) and second in on-base percentage (.360).
But as Major League Baseball celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, it is worth noting Ruiz's accomplishments off the field.
Ruiz introduced "Chooch's Chicos" last season, when he started to invite children from local Latino organizations to games. Ruiz meets with each child individually, signs autographs and takes photographs. He purchases game tickets, T-shirts and concessions for each participant. He also speaks to the youth in Spanish, telling him how he made his way from Panama to the big leagues with the Phillies.
"Helping the kids is big," Ruiz said. "I really enjoy it. I like to spend time with them. I just talked about life and how important school is. It's big. I always say, 'You have to think about [life] after school, you're going to have a family. So right now, school is big.'"
Ruiz has hosted more than 250 kids the past couple years from groups that include: Hispanic Community Counseling Services (HCCS), ACLAMO (Accíon Comunal Latino Americano de Montgomery County), APM (Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha), Concilio and Congreso De Latinos Unidos.
Ruiz also has supported Philadelphia Futures for several years. Futures works primarily with economically disadvantaged, college-bound students across Philadelphia, many of whom come from the Philadelphia Latino community.
Ruiz has hosted Futures' "Get in the Game" charity bowling tournament the past three years as well, the most recent June 2. It raised more than $160,000 to benefit Philadelphia Futures' Sponsor-A-Scholar Program.
School is important to Ruiz. He remembers how, while he was growing up in Panama, his mother would not let him play baseball if he didn't study.
"That helped me a lot," Ruiz said. "Sometimes I felt like, 'Well, I can make money in sports.' And that's right. Baseball, you can make some good money. But you also need to prepare yourself for other things. That's big, too."