Fernando Ruiz is retiring from the Red Bulls after 26 years. (Photo courtesy of the Red Bulls)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

While the Red Bulls walked off the Red Bull Arena field disappointed after a frustrating scoreless draw with Atlanta United Wednesday night, they still had a reason to smile.

In a bittersweet ceremony after the final whistle, the MLS club honored long-time equipment manager, Fernando (Padrino) Ruiz, who is retiring after this season.

Ruiz, who has been with the Red Bulls since Day One in 1966, since the team was the MetroStars, was feted by former Red Bulls defender-midfielder Conor Lade, currently the club’s  as players surrounded both men.

Here is what Lade told Ruiz and the crowd at RBA:

“You are definitely the definition of a club legend.

“You’ve always been a calming presence in the locker room at the stadium and someone who always brings a smile to those faces of the people around you. Your presence and your humor will be dearly missed. The life of a kit man is not a glamorous one as you know; late nights, early mornings, rarely a day off. And way more underwear that [you] wash than I’m sure you’d like to admit. A very demanding, often thankless job. Yet the way you approach your job every single day with passion, a gracious attitude and treated every single player and colleague like they were your family member. It’s truly, truly admirable.

“You’ve seen it all. Every piece of history in this club since 1996. You’ve been a rock for countless professionals, guiding them through their highs and lows of their respective careers. You’ve had the opportunity to lift three Supporters Shields for the club that you love. All the while grooming your son Sean to follow in your footsteps. I have no doubts that when that day comes that this club lifts an MLS Cup, you will be there to hoist it.

“And I know for a certainty that you’ll be the one organizing all the celebrations as well. But for now, your beautiful wife Evelyn, your wonderful family, get to spend some uninterrupted days with you that they I’m sure they’ve missed, free from the grind of being a kit man which you make look effortless. The time that players and staff have cherished for years, you finally get to make that up with your family. Fernando, you transcend being kit man. You my friend, our legend of this club in every sense of the word.

“This club owes you a debt of gratitude for your unmatched service. On behalf of the players and the entire staff, the New York Red Bulls, we want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything that you’ve done for this club. Congratulations on a hell of a career, a truly a hell of a career. And thank you most of all for helping to write the history of this club. We love you so much Padrino and best of luck in your next adventure.”

During the Red Bulls postgame Zoom press conference, Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber also praised Ruiz.

“Fernando has a big history in this club,” he said. “He’s not only a kit man, he’s a legend. I have had the chance to work with him last season and and right now. We have also a very good relationship together. I love to speak with him about old stories with this club. He’s always [has] a very good optimistic mindset. I will miss the time with him when he is not here. But we have to respect [that] he deserves more time for himself and for his family. I wish him all the best. He’s healthy and can enjoy the time with his family.”

Midfielder Dru Yearwood echoed Struber’s thoughts.

“From day one, he welcomed me with open arms,” he said. “It’s really sad to see him go. I did get a little emotional by this. I will miss him. He’s just the best guy. Anything you need, whether it’s kit, whatever. You just need to talk, he’s just there. I think for me he knows how much he means to me. I think it’s sad to see him go, but we just have to give him the send-off he deserves.”

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Guardian.com. Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at Amazon.com.