Three days ago Darin Ruf tied Ryan Howard’s Reading Phillies single season home run record at 37. Justin Friend, the R-Phil closer, also had 23 saves–one shy of the single season franchise record shared by Wayne Gomes and Toby Borland. Thus, the past two evenings I have been in First Energy Stadium in Reading, PA to watch the final two home games of the regular season.
On Wednesday night the Reading team awards ceremony was held before the game. Both Ruf and Friend took home hardware, with Ruf being named team MVP. In the game Ruf went 2 for 2 with a double, a single, and two walks. There was a lot of suspense and drama throughout the night. The R-Phils lost, eliminating any chance for Friend to pick up a save.
On Thursday night Ruf was presented with the Eastern League MVP award before the game, as well as the Rookie of the Year award. He gave a nice speech thanking his family, friends, teammates, coaches, and the fans.
Binghamton had a hard throwing left handed starter, which made me feel optimistic about Ruf’s chances. In his first at bat he didn’t get anything good to hit. I began to fear he would be pitched around. Then in his second at bat two runners were on with two outs. Ruf got ahead in the count. And then he launched a ball far into the dark night.
It took less than a second for me to realize he had just hit number 38. It was a question of whether or not it would clear the outfield bleachers, not if it would clear the fence. It landed in the very back of the left field bleachers. The crowd was louder than I have ever heard it in Reading. Standing ovation. Joy.
That joy translated to the field. The players seemed thrilled for Ruf. They were all smiling and celebrating.
All the players came out onto the field. The game was briefly paused to award Ruf a bat that had been spray painted silver to mark the occasion. He’ll be getting a silver or pewter one after the season ends–the spray painted bat is just a body double.
In his next at bat Ruf hit a ball to the wall that was caught. He got another standing ovation.
Reading had a 7-2 lead going into the 9th inning. Things got interesting when the Mets loaded the bases with one out. With the tying run on the on deck circle it became a save situation, and Justin Friend came into the game. He warmed up, then promptly induced a double play ground ball. Game over. Save record tied.
I really enjoyed spending the last two nights at the ballpark. To make things even better, I sat next to old baseball fans both nights. I got to hear stories about Greg Luzinski, Mike Schmidt, and other players from the past.
Reading is always entertaining, and the staples were there. The Crazy Hot Dog Vendor.
The racing vegetables. I think the vegetable races at Reading are the most competitive novelty races I have seen at a ballpark. The interns are serious about winning.
And of course, Neal the Singing Usher belting out Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the 7th inning stretch. He has been working at the ballpark since 1967!