12/29/2009 10:41 AM ET
Carlos Ruiz: Beisbol rules in Panama
Rivera, Lee two of the heroes in Ruiz's native country
Baseball is very big in Panama. I think it's the biggest sport in the country, right in front of soccer. A lot of people in my country play baseball and enjoy following baseball.
Mariano Rivera, of course, has had the biggest following in Panama in recent years. A lot of people in Panama are playing baseball and watching baseball as a direct result of how well Mariano has done in the big leagues with the Yankees. He will probably make the Hall of Fame someday. He's one of the greatest closers ever to play.
I've never had the chance to catch a game with Mariano pitching, but I would jump at the opportunity. I was just happy to have met him during the World Baseball Classic earlier this year. That was the first time I met him, and it was very special for me.
Carlos Lee is another great player from Panama. Carlos is a very big guy but he runs very well for someone his size. He's a very good runner in general. He likes to use that deceptive speed to his advantage, whether he's stealing bases or running out an infield single. He's a great all-around player.
Whenever I get the chance, I like to meet up with Carlos when we are playing the Astros. He's a good friend. We usually talk before the game, whether we're in Philadelphia or in Houston.
With Mariano, it's a little different. We don't see each other that much because he's in the American League and I'm in the National League.
Before guys like Rivera and Lee made it here, Manny Sanguillen, Rod Carew and Omar Moreno are three other well-known Panamanian players.
Back in the day when I was growing up in Panama, I followed Pittsburgh and I also liked the Bash Brothers -- Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco.
My family stlll lives in Panama. They follow all my games on satellite. It's a great way for them to watch me every day. They love to watch the games, and I'm glad they are able to keep an eye on me.
Carlos Ruiz, a native of David Chiriqui, Panama, had another solid season as the Phillies catcher in 2009 and followed it up with another outstanding performance in the postseason. He has a .303 average, a .905 OPS, seven doubles, three homers and 13 RBIs in 99 at-bats over the past three postseasons, earning himself the clubhouse nickname Senor Octubre.