When I visit the minor league venues and schedule back-to-back-to-back interviews, things have a tendency to be rushed and unfocused with everything blurring together in my mind. I often don't realize what I have until I get home and start transcribing the audio. When I sat down and listened to the Rio Ruiz interview, I became really excited about the type of player the 2012 fourth round draft pick can become.
The picture that emerged is a young man with a genuine love of and respect for the game. Someone who knows his mind, knows what he wants and knows what he needs to do to get there. Someone who knows it won't be easy but is prepared to embrace the challenges with a smile on his face.
What was the deciding factor in signing with the Astros? "I think it was just how comfortable I was in choosing what I wanted to do. I was really leaning towards [USC] but the Astros gave me a gift and it is hard to turn down something [like that]. [The signing bonus wasn't along the lines of what Lance McCullers and Carlos Correa received], but then I thought back and said, 'You know, baseball's what I want to do. Baseball's all I want to do.' So after that, after I made my decision, I just rolled with it and I'm just enjoying life right now."
On the draft: "[Mr. Luhnow] and his team really worked well. Mr. Heck, Mr. Luhnow and all his team worked really well [in signing] not just me, not just Carlos, not just Lance, but his whole draft class. It was a great draft class. Everyone's saying it's the best draft class. Who knows? Our job is to just play the game."
What is the biggest surprise about playing pro ball so far?: "I think just the grinding every day. Everyone kept telling me the same thing, it's a grind every day. You're playing every day and I [thought], 'Ah, I can deal with it. It's fine. No big deal.' My second week of playing every day I was like, 'Dang, this is a grind.' Yeah, I was tired. Yeah, I was sore. But I just kept fighting through it because it's a game I love. I just went out there with a smile on my face and just kept doing the thing I love to do."
On being away from his family: "It's not hard being away from them. I love being out here on my own, growing up on my own. The only thing I can say that I miss is them being with me and experiencing all this stuff that I'm experiencing. There's going to be many opportunities and potentially if I'm in the big leagues, they're going to be there every step of the way."
On his friendship with Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers:
"We all hang out together. We're like three best friends. My first day after I signed, my first day was in the GCL and they just welcomed me in, took me in and showed me around, got me [acquainted] with everybody and now we're together [again at] Greeneville."
Who on the team makes him laugh?: "I'd have to say [Michael] Dimock and [Zach] Dando. They're funny guys. My locker's right next to Dimock and he just makes me laugh all the time. It's good having those guys around because it makes you think less that it's a job and more that it's just fun. You really don't think about it as a job until the off-season. It's good to have those guys around. [They] really keep a smile on my face."
What has he accomplished and what is he working on?: "My first focus when I was coming in to pro ball was maturity. I was coming out of high school and not a lot of guys are mature. For me, being 18 years old and signed and out here playing ball every day, I think maturity is a big factor in playing pro ball and that's what I was focusing on first. I feel like I have matured out here and done a lot of growing up on my own. Now it's just playing, playing hard every day and not giving away at bats. Playing the game the right way, respecting the game, and playing the game how it's supposed to be played."
Which Astros pitcher would he least like to face?: "Seeing this is my first year, I really haven't seen too many. Coming into it, I [thought], 'I don't want to face Lance,' but the first week I was here, I had to face Lance in live BP all the time so I got comfortable facing him. Seeing [as] he sits in the mid-90's and throws that dirty change up, I feel like [he's given me a look at the kind] of stuff that people will be throwing at me in the near future. So I feel like I'm ready and he's gotten me ready for [the pitchers I'll face] as I go up."
On comparisons to major league players: "I get compared to Eric Chavez with the Yankees. A lot of guys have said [Pedro] Alvarez from the Pirates. But I'm not trying to be like them. I'm trying to be my own guy and just play my own game. God gave them gifts. God gave me gifts I'm just trying to fulfill."
Who was his favorite player growing up? : "Growing up I was a huge Darin Erstad fan. He started off in the Angels. I went to go see him all the time. He was my favorite player. And then he went to Houston. He was a great player."
Something most people don't know about him that may surprise him: "I'm a real big Justin Bieber fan. A lot of people make fun of me for it. People have preferences. It's not like I listen to him all the time or he gets me pumped up for a game or anything, but it's just something when I'm sitting back in my hotel room or back home or just driving around back home, I just throw that in."
What would he do if he couldn't play baseball?: "I'd go back to school definitely. I'd go back to school, get my degree. When I was thinking [about] going to school, I wanted to major in kinesiology and become a physical therapist. God willing, I have a great long career in the Houston organization and, hopefully, I get to make my decision on what I want to do when I'm 40-something years old, when I'm 50 years old."
What would he tell Houston fans about the future of the Astros?: "It's going to be OK. Everything you do in life, you're going to have rough patches. Right now, they're in that stage, the Houston organization. They're rebuilding right now. Mr. Luhnow has got everything off to a great start with this draft class and all the things he's doing so far. A lot of changes have been made and I think the biggest thing for the Houston fans is sit back and watching everything develop. Yeah, they're struggling but in years to come, it will be, 'Whoa, remember when we were this, remember when we were that?,' and then we have two World Series rings in the future. Who knows what the future holds? Just sit back and enjoy everything that's happening."
Is he having fun?: "Absolutely. I wouldn't change this for the world. The GCL [wasn't] the greatest place to play. Hot, humid, it was brutal. But even there I enjoyed playing every day and grinding it out and battling the sun. Then I got promoted out here and this is like paradise out here, and I'm having even more fun. I can't imagine, as I go up, how much more fun it's going to be."
Rio displayed wisdom in his answers that was far beyond his years. The idea that he's even thinking about his maturity level at 18 tells me that maturity won't ever be a problem for him.
And I may be reading too much into this, but I was really impressed with Rio's pick of Darin Erstad as his favorite player growing up. Erstad wasn't necessarily the flashiest player, but he was a hard-nosed player and a great role model. He played the game the right way and he led by example. Rio struck me as the kind of player who will eventually fall into that role, one of leading by example. Not to put any pressure on him, but one former Astro kept popping into my mind as I listened to his answers and envisioned the Astros future. A very bright future.