Three weeks ago, Justin Ruggiano was in baseball limbo. Designated for assignment by the Mariners, the 33-year-old didn't know where he was headed to continue his career. Now back in Triple-A, he's taking a fresh outlook and enthusiasm to the plate every night.
Ruggiano blasted three homers for the second time in his career and drove in seven runs, lifting his average through four Pacific Coast League games to .467 and powering Triple-A Tacoma to a 14-4 rout of El Paso on Saturday night at Cheney Stadium.
"It was very tough and a little hard on me to accept the news," Ruggiano said, "but I think that God gave me the strength to come down here, keep playing, keep my head up. I know that good things will come."
Saturday's performance certainly qualifies as a good thing.
A night after his first hitless effort since returning to the PCL, Ruggiano went off. He put the Rainiers in front with a three-run homer in the bottom of the first and hit another three-run blast off Chihuahuas starter Robbie Erlin in the fifth. Two innings later, Ruggiano mashed a solo shot off of Jordan Hershiser.
"I'm getting some timing [back at the plate] playing consecutive days," he said. "It's been some time since I've been able to do that. That's definitely helped me. Me and Cory Snyder, we've actually worked very well together in the cages since I've been down here. Being on the same page as your hitting coach, I can't tell you how good it feels. It's working."
Ruggiano walked in the bottom of the eighth, missing a chance to match Tacoma's only four-homer night, done by Randy Bass in 1977. Even though that was five years before he was born, Ruggiano's taking some good-natured ribbing from his new teammates.
"They call me 'Abuelo' on this team because I'm the oldest one here, I think," he said. "I'm just trying to keep up with these young guys, man. They have a lot of fun. They're very talented, and I'm getting a chance to play baseball, so I can't really complain about too much. Coming down here, it's been a lot of fun to be able to play."
After slashing .214/.321/.357 in 36 games with Seattle, Ruggiano was designated for assignment on June 5. After going unclaimed on waivers, he was sent down Interstate 5 to Tacoma and brought a positive outlook with him.
"I know one thing I'm not going to do is I'm not going to come down here and sulk and set a bad example for these younger guys," he said. "The 10 days in which I was being designated, I went through a lot of emotional stages, and I probably definitely needed all 10 days just emotionally because you put your heart and soul into something and you're someplace else the next day.
"It's tough. I'm not going to lie. I was invested in that team and all the guys on that team. That being said, after that 10th day, when I knew I was coming down here, I told myself I was going to come down here, work hard, get back to playing baseball hopefully every day and give myself an opportunity someplace or back in Seattle."
Being around a roster of talented young players on the way up has given Ruggiano an opportunity to be a mentor -- in addition to an everyday player.
"I want to set a good example for these guys and help them any way I can because I'm obviously the veteran guy on the team now," he said. "Some of these guys are looking at me and asking me for advice, and I don't want to let anger or disappointment or sadness deprive them of information I can help them with."
Former top prospect Jesus Montero continued his impressive turnaround with two homers on Saturday night. The 25-year-old is slashing .306/.343/.482 through 74 games as Tacoma's regular first baseman after a tough year that saw him struggle on and off the field.
"He looks excellent," Ruggiano said. "I have no idea what he did last year. I was not here last year, but from what I hear, he's done a complete 180. He's turned it around and I'm really happy for him because I think he's a great kid. I think he's very talented, and one thing I've noticed about him since I've been down here is he's very easy to coach. He's very eager to learn more. He has the hunger in him right now, and that's always a sign for a good player."