DURHAM — Back in 2007, it was a fairly normal occurrence to see catcher John Jaso up to bat with a large picture of the Geico caveman showing on the big screen at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Outfielder Jon Weber, 5 feet 11, would walk up to the plate last season to the sound of the "Oompa Loompa Song" from "Willy Wonka."
And though this had a lot to do with the media, the mastermind was Bulls outfielder Justin Ruggiano.
"I definitely like to play pranks on the guys and stir the pot a little bit, too, but for the most part, you won't get much out of me," said Ruggiano, who has a .286 batting average going into Sunday's game against the Gwinnett Braves. "I like to get the media guys involved with pictures of guys on the big screen, like with John Jaso, we always call him the Geico caveman, and Jon Weber is shorter, so we would put on that song."
And though Jaso has since moved up to the major leagues to play for the Tampa Bay Rays and Weber to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, Ruggiano still likes to keep the game fun and relaxed.
"I like to keep it loose. A lot of guys can get uptight, and I just like to have a good time," said the outfielder, who played 45 games for the Rays in 2008 and spent five days with the Rays this season but did not appear in a game. "I don't like taking the game too seriously because it's annoying coming to the field every day when you're worrying about the fine line, the rules and how to act. I just try to contribute every day by being an overall good player."
Infielder Chris Richard agrees, saying that the pair like joking around and playing card games on the bus to keep the team enthusiastic and less fatigued.
"I've been his teammate for the last three years, and I sit behind him in our lineup most of the time, and we've had really good chemistry on the field and get along really well," Richard said. "We'll do stuff to keep things loose around here and keep the chemistry going, and Ruggiano is always involved in the jokes we play. I'm sure we've messed with Jon Weber a few times, but Ruggiano's his own guy. He'll tell you what's on his mind, he's a hard worker, a great teammate and a pretty serious guy, but he likes to have fun."
Ruggiano played collegiately at Texas A&M before starting professionally in 2004 when he was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 25th round of the amateur draft. He was sent to the Rays organization in July 2006.
"I played with the Rays earlier, and it's a great experience. Of course, getting called up to go to the Rays, that's the dream," he said. "Here, it's more of an everyday grind trying to get back there, and at the same time, you work on everything so when they call you, you're ready."
Hitting coach Dave Myers has worked with Ruggiano for the past two seasons and coached against him two seasons before that when Myers was with the Buffalo Bisons. Myers said the outfielder is a very consistent and solid player.
"He's been a really good player with this league for the past couple years, and he does what's asked of him and has a desire to win, a desire to do well," Myers said. "For the major leagues, I think he needs to be a productive hitter and needs to be able to handle all the pitches and continue to run the bases well and play all three outfield positions. That increases his value as a major league player."
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