He didn’t look ready. It was in the latter stages of the Rays‘ pennant run of 2008, and Tim Wakefield was on the mound against Tampa Bay.

Justin Ruggiano had never seen something as bizarre as the knuckleball Wakefield was throwing in his direction. He couldn’t adapt and ended up with the awful honor of the “golden sombrero” (four strikeouts, three verses Wakefield) against the veteran, though the Rays managed to pull out a win.

As I headed back home from the Trop, many different thoughts went through my head. One had me wondering if Ruggiano would ever make a real impact at the major league level or if he would just remain the 25-25 threat in Triple-A.

The question has finally been answered. Many complained when Ruggiano was called up over Brandon Guyer and Desmond Jennings in late May. No one can snicker at the move now.

Before a rather disappointing outing last night, Ruggiano was hitting at a .340 clip in the first 19 games he had appeared in. His hustle has remained, but the seemingly lack of confidence that he had in 2008 is gone.

The talent was always there for him to produce at the top level, and though he may be a late-bloomer at 29, the Rays need the extra offensive help now more than ever.

Ruggiano also has had his share of “web gem” plays in his time in Tampa Bay, including his recent robbing of a home run in Baltimore. He’s getting much better jump on fly balls in the Trop, as well, no longer inexperienced in the oddly configured dome.

With there being a huge stock of outfield talent in the Rays’ organization, Ruggiano was left off the 40-man roster to begin the season, making it a surprise to most that he was called up.

When he was dropped from the 40-man roster, different teams toyed with the idea of adding him off of waivers, but luckily for the Rays, everybody passed on the Texas A&M grad.

So now he is getting fair share of time in left field, splitting it up with Sam Fuld, with many wondering when, or if, he will go cold.

He may still be considered a “fringe” player, but Ruggiano has made a mark with the big club and has proved himself as a strong asset to the team.

Whether he remains for the rest of the season, stays for years to come or is sent elsewhere when Jennings is finally called up, he has shown that he belongs.

He stepped up to the plate on the 14th of this month, well over two-and-a-half years since his “golden sombrero” game, and there was Tim Wakefield, standing on the mound against him once again. Except this time, the roles were reversed.

Ruggiano blasted a home run over the left field wall, sparking the Rays’ victory over rival Boston. He had truly arrived. Not bad for a 25th-round pick that no one picked off of waivers. Not bad at all.

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