CLEARWATER, Fla. – His pretty three-bedroom apartment that overlooked Sendai is in shambles. Not that Randy Ruiz plans on returning anytime soon. Fact is, he's not exactly sure what to do, where to go.
Caught in a series of tragic events, the ex-big leaguer who now plays in Japan and his teammates are truly living day to day.
"Earthquakes, volcanoes erupting, nuclear power plants exploding and the tsunami," Ruiz told The Associated Press by cell phone this week. "What can be next?"
"It's all over, this all you see," he said. "I'm from the Bronx, and the only thing I could compare it to is 9-11. It's like, 'Is this real?'"
At least Ruiz, who homered off Josh Beckett, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett during a late-season run with Toronto in 2009, is safe. He was playing with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in an exhibition game 400 miles away last Friday and never felt the magnitude-9.0 quake.
Ruiz first learned of the disaster when umpires suddenly stopped the game in the eighth inning. The team's English translator explained the situation to Ruiz and fellow former major leaguers Darrell Rasner and Ryan Speier, and fans were sent home.
Ruiz and the other Eagles — Kaz Matsui, Byung-Hyun Kim and Akinori Iwamura, among them — are practicing in Nagoya, about 300 miles from their hard-hit home in the port city of Sendai. They're staying in a hotel, feeling guilty.
"We're eating at buffets and people over here are starving. They could use a hot meal or cup of coffee," Ruiz said.
Ruiz is trying to stay in contact with family and friends. His dad is in Cleveland, his grandmother in New York. He's been in constant touch with Blue Jays star Jose Bautista — both born on Oct. 19, "we're like brothers," Ruiz said. They played together in Toronto last year before Ruiz was released in mid-May and went to Japan.
"The first day, I couldn't get through to him," Bautista, last year's home run champion, said Thursday before Toronto played Philadelphia. "I was worried about him, concerned."
"I'm from the Dominican Republic and we've had hurricanes. I'm not comparing that with what's going on in Japan, but I know what it's like to have debris in the streets, no water or power, and chaos," he said. "I know he wants to help with the relief effort and he'll do the right thing. But sometimes you get to a point where it probably helps a country not to have a lot of foreigners that they have to worry about, along with their own people."
In Japan, though, there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty. "We don't know what's going on," Ruiz said. "There's the language barrier, too."
Winter weather, power outages and a lack of water have added to the hardship.
"It's like a movie. Doesn't seem real but it is," Ruiz wrote in an e-mail. "Everything you don't want to happen is happening."
There's talk the start of the Japanese regular season could be pushed back two or three weeks to mid-April. The Eagles' park has been damaged and Ruiz speculates it may not be ready until May.
"If it was up to me, I'd worry about the city before worrying about baseball," he said. "Who wants to go to a baseball game when you have dead family members?"
Ruiz said some American players from other teams have left the country. He wants to stay and eventually play, as long as it's safe. There are fears that more than 10,000 people have been killed and growing concerns about radiation exposure.
"We don't want to burn any bridges. We want to be here for the team. We want to help with fundraising and aid," he said.
"But if it gets worse, we're going to have to do what we do. Everyone worries about their health. We're talking it out," he said. "We're going to stick together. If one guy goes, we're all going."
Ruiz hasn't seen his 14th-floor apartment since the calamities, and said he doesn't plan on going back for a while. He learned of the damage — "staircases broken, cracks everywhere, everything on the floor" — from teammate Kelvin Jimenez, who pitched for St. Louis in 2007-08.
Jimenez lived one floor above Ruiz and was in town rehabbing when the tsunami swamped Sendai.
"He was scared, he was nervous. He didn't know what to do," Ruiz said. "He told me he ate three boxes of Cheerios, trying to figure out where to go."