KANSAS CITY -- Carlos Ruiz is a first-time All-Star. He couldn't be happier to be participating in the 83rd Midsummer Classic. Ten family members and friends made the trip to share the thrill with him, and nothing could spoil this experience.
Not even hearing that National League manager Tony La Russa plans to bring him into the game at the same time as Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
"I don't think I'm going to have trouble catching the knuckleball. I'm going to play long toss with him and we'll see how it moves," he said with a smile at the media availability during Monday's Gatorade All-Star Workout Day.
La Russa said Giants right-hander Matt Cain will start the game, in part, because he'll be throwing to Giants catcher Buster Posey. In addition to playing catch Monday, Ruiz is likely to also warm up Dickey in the bullpen Tuesday night, giving him even more familiarity with the unpredictable flutter ball.
The pitcher and catcher also talked on the bus out to Kauffman Stadium, a conversation during which Dickey mentioned that he carried his own special knuckleball glove that Ruiz could use. Besides, Dickey isn't the first knuckleball pitcher Ruiz has caught.
He's the second, after Jared Fernandez at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2005.
Asked if he'd rather try to hit Dickey's knuckler or catch it, Chooch beamed.
"Catch it," he said with a laugh.
Phillies pitchers, Roy Halladay especially, have gone out of their way to praise Ruiz's skills as a receiver, but it took a .350-13-46 first half to get him to the All-Star Game. Cole Hamels, in his third Midsummer Classic appearance, thinks this will be all it takes for him to get continued national attention.
"I really do think this gets him the recognition he deserves," the left-hander said. "Because everybody looks at the pitching staff you have and what great pitchers you have, guys who have been to the postseason so many times. And the catching position kind of gets overlooked. Until you make an All-Star team.
"And then, boom, then you get the spotlight and you realize this guy is such a great catcher. And the rest of his career he's going to be known as a great catcher and not just a guy who caught great pitchers."
Halladay and Cliff Lee asked Hamels to look after Ruiz, show him the All-Star ropes.
National League lineup
1. Carlos Gonzalez, COL
2. Melky Cabrera, SF
3. Ryan Braun, MIL
4. Joey Votto, CIN
5. Carlos Beltran, STL
6. Buster Posey, SF
7. Pablo Sandoval, SF
8. Dan Uggla, ATL
9. Rafael Furcal, STL
Matt Cain, SF
"I know Doc and Cliff would have loved to be here to be able to see this themselves," Hamels said. "They definitely mentioned it to me to make sure I watch out and really let him enjoy. It's well-deserved and I'm really excited to see it."
"I told him to really enjoy it. It's going to go fast. I've been trying to make him take photos in front of things and keep some of the memorabilia that you get at the All-Star Game, the jerseys and the fun stuff that you get. It's actually pretty wonderful to see. When guys play day in and day out like he has ... all I know is I couldn't be a catcher. It takes a lot of work ethic. For him to be able to catch the caliber of guys we have, it really shows that he's been able to take it to another level. And that's something that I think all of us are proud of."
Ruiz said he was overwhelmed by a feeling of happiness when he got to town and saw all the signs, to receive the congratulations from some of the best players in the game. He also said it made him realize something else.
"It makes me feel like I have to keep working hard," he said. "It's my first time here, but I hope it's not the last one. That gives me a lot of motivation."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.