During the past two decades, the New York Yankees entrenched themselves as the perennial team of choice in their city. Through their dominance and winning culture, they built a new legion of youth fans, some of who are playing professional baseball themselves. Ben Ruta, a native of West Windsor, New Jersey grew up in that era and now lives out his dream as a player in the Yankees’ organization.
Defining the championship seasons under Joe Torre were patience and discipline. Outfielder Bernie Williams translated that on-field discipline from his musical background where he learned to express himself internally. In a similar sense, Ruta also grew up around the music by playing the piano as a youngster and learned from an early age the benefit of being patient on a baseball diamond.
“I played the piano for seven years. I didn’t like practicing the piano initially, but my mom made me do it when I was younger.” Ruta said. “One I was done, I began to enjoy it, because I was able to see why it was beneficial to me and the discipline part of it is just like baseball because you are always practicing to become successful.”
In addition to his music pursuits, Ruta comes from a strong athletic background, where both his father and sister played collegiate soccer. Ruta would establish himself at West-Windsor Plainsboro South High School, where he earned three varsity letters in baseball and was a Princeton “All Packet” First Team selection on two occasions.
“Baseball was truly the sport that I loved more than soccer and I was willing to work hard in that sport. The high school competition was ok, but what prepared me for college was being able to look up to some older players and keep working hard every year from then and get into a routine, which is how I found success,” Ruta said.
Following high school, Ruta received a Division I offer from Wagner College, which plays its home games on the same field as the Staten Island Yankees at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. Under head coach Jim Carone and his predecessors, Wagner developed into one of the top baseball programs in New York City with seven players getting drafted by big league teams, including former Oakland A’s closer Andrew Bailey.
“Playing at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in my professional career is a dream for me because I practiced and played there for four years in college,” Ruta said. “Wagner was one of my only Division I offers. I was the first player recruited by Carone when he got the job. From the time I was a freshman to when I was a senior, the program kept taking steps to improve from playing better competition to recruiting better players.”
Ruta began garnering notice with a standout season this past spring, batting .343/.406/.439 and making the First Team All-NEC for the second consecutive season. Although the individual stats were impressive were impressive on paper, Ruta puts team performance ahead of individual pursuits and regrets being unable to compete for a league championship in his final year of eligibility.
“It’s always great to get individual awards, but we did not meet our goals as a college program. We did not get a chance to play in an NEC Tournament, which was a huge disappointment. It is nice to have a great year, but you cannot do that without the help of your coaches, teammates, family, and hard work.”
Ruta’s aspiration of playing for the Yankees came to fruition when the organization selected him in the 30th round in June. His first 13 professional games came with the Pulaski Yankees in Appalachian League, when he hit .283/.365/,413 with one home run and eight runs batted in for manager Tony Frankin to open the season.
“The Yankees showed interest in me during the pre-draft workout. I was hoping to get taken by them since I was on their radar the past two seasons. I really enjoyed the small-town feel of Pulaski. They had great fans there and the park was beautiful. Tony was very supportive and walked the players through the minor league process through their first experience in pro ball”
Following an auspicious pro start, Ruta earned a promotion to Staten Island, where he returned to the site of his collegiate glory. Ruta struggled in his first foray in the New York-Penn League with one hit in his first 16 at-bats before hitting a home run against the Williamsport Crosscutters. Adjustments were key for Ruta to overcome difficulties and adjust to the league in Staten Island.
“It was definitely a big adjustment anytime you move up a level,” Ruta said. “What it comes down to is feeling out your swing and not worrying necessarily about how many hits you get, but about putting in good at-bats together each day because baseball is a rough sport on your mind because you have to focus on the process rather than the results.”
Primarily a gap hitter with speed, Ruta hopes to improve his power potential as he makes his way through the Yankees minor league system and believes the coaching philosophy at each level benefits him while he improves in professional baseball.
“Eric Duncan, the hitting coach in Staten Island has helped me make small adjustments during the season, where my swing now feels great. He is similar to Kevin Mahoney in Pulaski since they aren’t about changing your entire swing. I think it’s a great approach to have since these adjustments can help you go a long way.”