At one point during his school years, Pete Ruiz told a career counselor that he would play professional baseball.
As it turns out, the Menlo Park native spent seven years pitching in the minor leagues, with a cup of coffee – baseball slang for a brief appearance – with the Boston Red Sox. A righthander with a vicious curve, he fanned many of those who star on major league rosters, but in places like Greenville, North Carolina and Portland, Maine.
Ruiz decided to retire in 2014 and moved to the Monterey Peninsula. He now stars on a different playing field, as a realtor for the Ruiz Group, a brokerage group under the Keller Williams umbrella, with offices in Carmel.
He did step back on the mound once since closing out his professional baseball career. When the Monterey Amberjacks began their inaugural season in 2017, Ruiz started on opening day and struck out 11 batters in just four innings before feeling a twinge in his elbow.
On Saturday, March 30, Ruiz will be at it again, only this time as a sponsor. The Ruiz Group brings the Junior Home Run Derby, a national program run by Major League Baseball for youth 14 and under, to Sollecito Ballpark. The Monterey winner will move on to a regional competition, and champions from there travel to baseball’s All-Star Week.
Ruiz still loves the game. He coached at Palma for two years and sees events like this as a way to stay involved with youth sports – or as he puts it, “to get a kid excited, to say ‘I did it; you can.’”
Weekly: It’s apparent that you see great value in youth sports.
Ruiz: Absolutely. They’re making kids pick one sport at age 8 – “my kid plays basketball.” I encourage kids to play sports, period. First of all, they learn coordination and athleticism. The second reason is learning how to coexist with peers of different personalities and to become a good teammate, to be supportive. Third is learning how to play for different personalities. Coaches – you don’t choose them. You’re going to have a boss, you don’t choose them. There are a lot of life lessons. It makes you resilient, stronger, tougher.
[The Junior Home Run Derby] is great because kids, parents, the sports world – it’s a participation trophy generation. You don’t have to be best, but it’s important to teach kids how to compete. It’s OK to lose.
What kept you going for seven years in the minors?
You work your whole life for something and you’re there. No one can take that away from you. The organization keeps investing in you. But it’s one of those things – no matter what you do, you’re never good enough. You play in college, “but you didn’t play Division 1.” You play Division 1, “but you didn’t get drafted.” You play in the minors, “but you never played in the majors.” You make it to the majors, “but you’re not an all-star.” It never stops. When I have the conversation about my career, it’s with a grain of salt. For every one [who becomes a star], there are 1,000 others. Everyone who plays – there’s not a great difference in talent. It’s circumstance and timing.
Retiring from baseball – what did that feel like?
You feel like you need to be somewhere. It’s like the military – we refer to it as civilian life. You’re in a bubble and it’s a complete adjustment to living in society. All of a sudden you’re in the real world. Mentally, you feel like a failure. It’s just a weird head space when you’ve taken it seriously for so long and it’s all over. You’re 28 and it’s over. Did I leave it all out there? Did I make the most of my opportunity? There’s a lot of uncertainty.
You’ve mentioned circumstance, timing and opportunity. What translates in the real estate world?
I’m extremely competitive. When you’re a professional athlete and you make more than the coaches, no one tells you what to do anymore. It’s “here are the tools, now go out and do it.” Real estate is kind of the same. There are no set hours, no hourly pay. It was an easy transition. It’s learning how to succeed on your own.
What people complain about being difficult sometimes makes me laugh. Try throwing a backdoor slider on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded with 30,000 people watching. Hearing “no,” calling people – that’s not difficult. We all have it, but you have to put yourself in position. All you can do is your best. You can’t worry about what you can’t control. That’s why I do so well in real estate. I put the blinders on and my head down.