Matthew H. Rusk

The man who’s stockpiled the best pitching rotation in baseball history is brash, cocky and oozing self-confidence. There’s just one more thing we need him to do: Win the damn World Series

“He’s always been very intense,” recalls Ruben Sr. “About everything he’s done.”

Ruben Jr. didn’t hang around with many kids his age. He didn’t need any more friends, he’d tell his parents. He had his brother David’s friends. And David, who was three years older, was his best friend. “He was bored with kids his own age,” David recalls. “Because it wasn’t competitive enough.”

Until he was 15, that competition remained soccer, even though baseball was, as Ruben Jr. says, “the natural order of life” at home. His grandfather, Santos, was a feared hitter in the Mexican league for 17 years, and his father won a Gold Glove at shortstop for the Phillies and was later a first-base coach on the 1980 championship team. Ruben Sr. would bring his young sons along to Mexico for three-month stretches in the winter, where he managed in the Mexican and Venezuelan leagues.

But even though Ruben played baseball, it was his father’s sport. Soccer was his. It was soccer that kept him up nights before a game with migraines. Soccer that was beautiful and perfect.

And he was good at it. His father says it wasn’t unusual for Ruben Jr. to score three or four goals in the first half of most matches, then retire to “parade like a peacock for the next 45 minutes. And I said, ‘Hey, if you’re not going to play a full hour and a half, I’m not going to watch your games anymore. You are supposed to have respect for your teammates. You play the whole game.’”

Amaro was offered an opportunity to play soccer in Germany, where he would attend high school for a year and a half while the experts across the pond evaluated whether or not he had the stuff to become a professional. His mother, Judy, however, didn’t approve. Being Jewish, Judy wasn’t comfortable sending her son to a country with such an ignominious history, so Amaro remained stateside.

“After that, he didn’t want to see or smell a soccer ball ever again,” says his father.

Shortly thereafter, Amaro got a gig as batboy for the Phils. He would lean on a fence next to the likes of Pete Rose, Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt, watching the legends at work. And it was then that he finally started to understand what his father told him when he’d asked, “Why do you waste your time with baseball?”

“Because, Ruben,” he said, “baseball requires you to think.”

His parents had stressed education from an early age, sending him to Frankford Friends Elementary and Penn Charter High School, encouraging him to become a doctor or lawyer someday. He was seriously thinking about becoming a veterinarian, but when he saw those guys in 1980, and then stood on the field as they won the city’s first World Series, he started thinking: Maybe there was something special about baseball after all.

Some of his Stanford teammates — where Amaro enrolled in 1983 — called him cocky, thought he showed a little too much hubris. But his then-teammate and longtime friend Dave Esquer says, “People can mistake that and call it whatever they want. But Ruben was going to will himself into the big leagues, whether that should have happened or not.”