Ben Ruta is enjoying creature comforts not afforded many during their playing days, and it's paying dividends for the West Windsor, New Jersey native.
Having grown up some 15 minutes from Trenton's Arm & Hammer Park, he would regularly go and watch Yankees prospects hone their skills in an effort to reach their Major League dreams.
Now Ruta is one of those guys, and the Thunder outfielder is finding the opportunity to live at home and commute to the very ballpark he frequented in his youth to be a convenience at a crucial juncture in his career.
"The main thing that helps me with is, it takes a big weight off your shoulders because you have less unknowns and less things to worry about," he explained. "You know spots to eat at, you have people there who will help you if you need something done. You don't feel as alone. It's always nice to see your family. They come to all the games. That's always nice."
2019 MiLB include
Adding to Ruta's comfort level in starting this season in Trenton were the 36 games played with the team last year, in which he batted .300 between two levels. This season he is trying to combat his opponents' game plan and gain a better hold of the strike zone while cleaning up and simplifying his swing to add more pop.
He's proven that he has a better idea what to expect from the pitching at this level, flashing a .372 batting average and .467 on-base percentage through 31 games, both tops at the Double-A level.
"These pitchers have a plan more at this level than any level I've been before," said Ruta, whose 42 hits and 24 runs scored are both tied for most in the Eastern League. "So, I knew I had to make mine better to compete with that. Controlling the strike zone more has really helped me a lot. Trying to pick out better pitches to hit. I make a lot of contact, but sometimes I'm making contact with balls, which isn't good. So, if I just control the strike zone, let those go and just swing at strikes, I'm going to have a lot more success."
He was taken out of Wagner College in the 30th round of the 2016 Draft by the organization that he routinely made the hour-and-a-half trip to go root on at Yankee Stadium.
Once the initial haze of being drafted by the Yankees subsided, he knew he had to put his fandom aside to do what it takes to get him where he is now, and beyond.
"When I first heard that I got drafted by the Yankees it was kind of surreal, because I rooted for them my whole life," Ruta said. "I had to switch the mind-set that I'm no longer a fan anymore, I have to take this seriously as a business versus a fan aspect of it. But to get thrown into everything I've dreamed about as a kid is a really cool experience."
That experience has added value in getting to come back home, where he can enjoy his father's homemade Italian meals and spend time with family and friends.
Despite all the comforts that home brings, staying an extended period of time is not the exact plan, but the route from West Windsor to the Bronx is already well known.
A real one: After suffering through the toughest start of his young career, Wil Crowe, the Nationals' fourth-ranked prospect, bounced back nicely. The right-hander was hooked for his first loss of the season after Trenton slugged out 10 hits and six runs on May 3. Having had to wait a full week to return to the hill, Crowe blanked Hartford in six innings, striking out seven to earn his fourth win of the year. Take out the Trenton game, and the Harrisburg ace is sitting at 4-0 with a 0.79 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP in six starts this year.
Big Ben: In the outing after he notched his first professional save back in early April, Hartford closer Ben Bowden allowed three runs in two-thirds of an inning. Since then, the Rockies' No. 16 prospect has thrown 12 scoreless innings in 12 appearances, allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out 20. The Vanderbilt product also secured 10 saves in that span, making him a clean 11-for-11 on save opportunities this season. In 15 appearances this year, opponents are hitting .122 against Bowden, who has a 1.84 ERA and 0.68 WHIP and leads the league in saves.
Less equals more: Three pitching staffs currently sit with WHIPs under 1.20 -- Harrisburg 1.16, Erie 1.17, Hartford 1.18. Though there is plenty of season to be played, the last team to finish a year under 1.20 was in 2015 when Akron's staff posted a 1.19 WHIP. All three teams currently sit in the top four in ERA, with the Senators' 3.00 besting the league. Notably, all three teams currently sit over .500 with Harrisburg owning a 7.5 game lead over Erie in the Western Division.