© Chuck Duboff
“My earliest recollection is hanging with my dad in minor league clubhouses around the country, and of course the first time playing catch with Luis Aparicio and my dad on the field.” When you read that quote and think about it, it’s no wonder Rudy Arias became a baseball lifer. Having a dad who made it to the Majors in 1959 with the White Sox and getting to play catch with his dad and Luis Aparicio, a Hall of Fame shortstop for the Chicago White Sox, a man whom Ted Williams called “the best shortstop he had ever seen”, baseball had to become Rudy’s life. Rudy never felt any pressure from his dad to follow in his footsteps; he just wanted Rudy to enjoy the game. “I remember he always wanted me to pitch until one day our little league catcher was sick and I had to take his place…well to make a long story short, I never played any other position! Unfortunately, in 1981 I got hit in the face and it was a serious enough accident that it pretty much ended my career.”
Rudy spent a lot of years on long bus rides, in “minor league” hotels, earning minimal salaries. “Chuck, Hilda is my rock; she was always there supporting me, she is my best friend. I owe a lot of who I am to her.” Living the minor league baseball life isn’t all glory, but Rudy was very fortunate to have a wife who helped him navigate the life of a minor leaguer.
Rudy told me he was anticipating the next question: “how the heck did you end up coaching with the New York Yankees?” I’ll let Rudy explain it for himself:
“I was playing in Colombia during Winter League that year… when I got a call from Rick Downs, the NYY hitting coach, offering me the position; Rick by the way was my hitting coach in the Seattle Mariners Organization. They always said that winning in New York was big…well! They came up short! Winning the 1996 World Series was the ultimate accomplishment in anyone’s career. From winning it all, the parade, to receiving the key to the city from the Mayor at the time, Rudy Giuliani, and receiving my ring from Brian Cashman, has never been topped! This is everyone’s dream and it happened to me!
I asked Rudy if he ever met George Steinbrenner and he answered quite simply: “First of all, Mr Steinbrenner was a class act! One thing about him…behind closed doors he was known for his big heart! Many special things happened that never went public”.
That was the season that saw the Yankees bring in some young talent: Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. Rudy was right there to witness the start of the Core Four: “As for the Core of the Yankees….everyone saw the talent, but no one imagined what would transpire….from World Series champions to future Hall of Famers.”
I personally got to know Rudy when he became both the 1st base coach and bullpen catcher for the Winnipeg Goldeyes in 2008. Chatting with players and coaches as devoted Goldeyes fans do, I got to know Rudy pretty quickly. When I found out that he had been a coach for the 1996 World Champion New York Yankees, I couldn’t ask enough questions. We ended up chatting most every day…a New York Yankee World Series champion talking baseball with me, yet Rudy never made me feel like he was superior. “Chuck, I treat everybody the way I would like to be treated.” One of my great memories with Rudy was bringing him back cigars from his homeland, Cuba.
Rudy always had time for the fans in Winnipeg; I asked him what he would like to say to his fans/friends back here in Winnipeg. From Miami, Florida, Rudy sends these words:
“What can I say, that Hilda and I have not felt in our hearts? If I were to name every single person whom to this day remain our friends, the list would never end. They know who they are.”
Rudy spent the past few seasons as the bullpen coach and mentor to the young Latin players on the Baltimore Orioles; he is now settling into the life of a Grandpa; “being a grandpa is like seeing your child all over again; for me it has been both a blessing and a privilege. I am enjoying my kids to the max and I love them to no end…and Hilda, she is an exceptional grandmother.”
A pretty good life I’d say; a life of baseball and a great family…pretty sweet Mr. Arias.