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  • Twins Prospect Proud Of Baseball's Newest Hall Of Famer

    Seth Stohs

    At 5:00 on Wednesday, Jeff Idelson announced that three players had been voted to become the 2017 Hall of Fame class. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines made it after falling just short a year ago. On his first ballot, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez also was named a Hall of Famer, baseball’s highest honor. Certainly it was a huge day for all three new Hall of Famers. Certainly a big day for Puerto Rico. And without question, it was a big day for Dereck Rodriguez, Twins prospect and son of the first-ballot Hall of Famer.

    Image courtesy of Linwood Ferguson (photo of Dereck Rodriguez)

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    Making the Hall of Fame is a huge accomplishment. With Rodriguez voted in, it was also a big day for Puerto Rico. He became just the fourth player born in Puerto Rico to be named a Hall of Famer. Consider all of the great players to come from Puerto Rico, only Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda and Roberto Alomar are in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

    Lean Marrero spent his summer playing for the GCL Twins. Very young, he has a lot of athletic talent. Here are his thoughts on this important day for Ivan Rodriguez and for Puerto Rico. “It gives me satisfaction to hear that a Puerto Rican has reached the Hall of Fame. It inspires me to stay focused on what I want my career to be like It serves as an example to always exceed any limitation.”

    JJ Fernandez, a Twins minor league outfielder who spent his 2016 season in Cedar Rapids and had been a catcher before 2016, was excited for Rodriguez. “For me, he deserves it. He’s one of the best catchers baseball has ever seen. It really means a lot for sure. Everybody in Puerto Rico is very happy and proud.”

    Another 2016 Kernel, Nelson Molina, was very excited as well. “It means so much to me. Really, it does. Since I was a little kid, he was always my favorite player. I know it’s not only me, but all the young players from Puerto Rico have this feeling of excitement and feel extremely proud, knowing that dreams do come true with hard work, dedication and a lot of sacrifice.”

    Molina continued, “I got the pleasure of not only meeting him, but to get to know him on a personal level. All I can say is that he is a great human being who has given me advice on how to be a better player. As I mentioned before, I know it’s not only me, but all of Puerto Rico feels extremely proud of Ivan for joining a select group of elite baseball players in the Hall of Fame, and putting our island, Puerto Rico, very high as have Roberto Clemente, Roberto Alomar and Orlando Cepeda.”

    “It means a lot,” said Dereck Rodriguez, another member of the 2016 Cedar Rapids Kernels roster from Puerto Rico. He continued, “Hopefully there’s one next year too in Edgar Martinez. You never know. It could be one year, five years, twenty years. It’s a very special moment for Puerto Ricans and for the island. I know they’re going crazy right now. I’ve received phone calls and FaceTimed with people. It's nuts over there right now. It’s a fun time.”

    Dereck Rodriguez is excited for the island of Puerto Rico, where he has been pitching (and well) this winter. But as the son of Ivan Rodriguez, Dereck is understandably excited for his dad and his family. On Tuesday, he flew to Dallas to be with his father. It was important for him to be there.

    “It means a lot to me. This is where I was born. This is where everything started for him. It’s where things started for him and for me,” he continued, “It was big. I was there from Day 1. I went through the journey with him. I spent a lot of nights with him in the hotel in the summers. It means a lot. It was important for me to be there with him for that special moment.”

    Just ten minutes before 5:00, the phone rang at Ivan Rodriguez’s home. On the other end, the Hall of Fame. Seconds later, Pudge clenched his fist and raised his arm as tears began to form in the corners of his eyes. The first person to give him a hug was his son, Dereck.

    Dereck Rodriguez said, “It was a special moment. Yeah, I got the first hug in. It was a very special moment. I couldn’t hold back any tears.”

    Dereck Rodriguez has a very different perspective on the game of baseball than most people, even most minor leaguers. It might be surprising to some to learn when he realized just how difficult this game is and the challenges it can present.

    “Before I signed, I always just thought of this as just a game. After I signed and had been in the minor leagues and been through all of the struggles… It’s tough. It’s tough. And to be a Hall of Famer, and to be the caliber of player that he was, it’s not easy. So I understand 100% how he must feel after all of the hard work and sacrifice that he put in. It paid off.”

    Rodriguez has said before that he spent a lot of time with his dad growing up. He saw it up close. He had a great view of the game and got to know many of his dad’s teammates, but for him, it was about more than that. In fact, other things were likely more important much of the time.

    “When I used to come to the field when I was younger, I used to spend my time making paintballs and playing pickle and all that stuff with the other kids.”

    Now? As Dereck Rodriguez stood in the outfield at The Ballpark in Arlington, looking in as his father conducted a press conference on the infield, his mind was racing and full of excitement.

    “I go to a baseball game, and wow, I want to be here. I’m here standing in the outfield. I’m wishing and hoping. I can’t wait to be hopefully one day be pitching on that mound, in front of this packed stadium, in the town that I lived in and grew up, and it pretty much raised me for a lot of years.”

    Dereck Rodriguez is one proud son.

    “The feeling that I have right now for my dad, and me honestly, I can’t believe it that my dad is a Hall of Famer.”

    That was the sentiment he felt when he posted the following on twitter:

    Rodriguez noted, “To be honest, it was a longer tweet but you can only put so many characters, so I had to make it shorter.”

    Drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of high school in Florida, Rodriguez spent the first three years of his professional career as a hitter. At that point, Rodriguez and the Twins brass made the decision for him to move to the mound, to become a pitcher in 2014. In 2015, he was the Appalachian League pitcher of the year.

    His father gets to a handful of Dereck’s games each year. “He’s been supportive. He tries to make it out there as much as he can.”

    Ivan Rodriguez is a special assistant to the GM of the Texas Rangers. It’s a title similar to what the Twins recently named Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins. He also does pregame and postgame shows for Fox Sports Southwest during the season.

    This year, Dereck Rodriguez moved up to Cedar Rapids to start the season. He really struggled for the first two months before taking off. Starting in mid-June, he started pitching much better. In fact, he had a strong six-week stretch for the Kernels and earned a promotion to Ft. Myers where he pitched well in five starts to end the season.

    “I started throwing the ball down a bit more. It was honestly that confidence. I didn’t have as much confidence as I should. I started throwing the two-seam a lot more, and that helped a lot. Started getting a lot more ground balls instead of fly balls. It was a combination of things. But that main thing was that I just needed to build up my confidence. It paid off. I got moved up to High-A and I just kept doing it up there.”

    This winter, as we mentioned, he has been working out the bullpen for Mayaguez. He pitches an inning or two each weekend. In 13 games and 17.2 innings, he is 2-1 with a 1.02 ERA. He has been very appreciative of the opportunity he was given and gained a lot from it.

    “It was special. It was fun. They gave me the confidence that they believed in me to throw me in those late-game situations. Puerto Rico, compared to the other leagues, may not be the highest ranked, but it’s really good competition. They have AA, AAA, big league guys playing there. It was a lot of fun. It taught me a lot. I worked on a couple of things. It taught me how to pitch in different situations, key situations late in the game. It taught me a lot.”

    2017 is a big year for Rodriguez. At the end of the season, he could become a free agent if he chooses. So what are his goals?

    “I think any player in the minors, the ultimate goal is to go up as much as he can; AA, AAA, or even the big leagues. I’m taking some time off right now with my arm to give it some rest before getting it going again. Trying to make AA right out of spring training and see what happens from there. Hopefully I do well enough and they see the hard work that I do during the year and then, we’ll see, maybe move up to AAA and maybe the big leagues in September.”

    He’d like to get a little rest before spring training starts in a little over a month. But the next few days will not allow for it. He is going to be a bit busy, doing some traveling with his dad.

    They are flying up to New York tonight, expected to arrive in Cooperstown well after midnight.

    “It’s going to be a couple of fun, hectic days.”

    Tomorrow afternoon, Ivan Rodriguez will join Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines at the baseball Hall of Fame to see the museum and speak with more press.

    Dereck says that he has been to Cooperstown before, but this will certainly be different.

    “I’ve been there before, but as a visitor. Last time I went, I was 12 years old. Now I get to go and see everything, appreciate everything a lot more now that I’m older.”

    What an experience!

    Some may say that Johnny Bench is the greatest catcher in baseball history. Some will say that title goes to Yogi Berra. In baseball’s 150-year existence, it is certain that Ivan Rodriguez is right there at or near the top of the list of baseball’s great catchers.

    His son Dereck is very happy and very proud. As he should be.

    “He worked his butt off to be where he is today. I honestly don’t think there’s been a harder working person than he has been. During the offseason, his workout program, and even during the season, he was the first one to get to the stadium and the last one to leave. He worked his butt off to get to where he is today.”


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    Got a chance to talk to Ivan Rodriguez briefly last Spring Training when he was there to watch his son.  Really nice guy, low key, and, unlike a few people who shared that ballot, does not like to draw attention to himself.  Congrats!  Same to Ivan Jr (Dereck is his middle name) for his dad.

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