Dereck Rodriguez poised to follow in dad’s footsteps

Published 10:05 am Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Star Photo/Collin Brooks Elizabethton Twins' pitcher Derreck Rodriguez, right, gave his dad, Pudge Rodriguez, left, the game ball he earned after his pitching performance against the Bristol Pirates on Monday at Joe O'Brien Field.

Star Photo/Collin Brooks
Elizabethton Twins’ pitcher Derreck Rodriguez, right, gave his dad, Pudge Rodriguez, left, the game ball he earned after his pitching performance against the Bristol Pirates on Monday at Joe O’Brien Field.

This whole pitching thing seems to be coming along just fine for Elizabethton Twins right-hander Dereck Rodriguez. After being selected in the sixth round by the Minnesota Twins in 2011 as an outfielder, the organization decided to move him to the bullpen last season and use Rodriguez as a pitcher.
That role has changed again this year, as he was notified that the Twins thought he had the stuff to be a starting pitcher.
If his first two Appalachian League starts are a sign of things to come, he won’t be in Betsy for long.
After picking up the win on Opening Day for the Twins, Rodriguez took the mound Monday night. He tossed seven shutout innings and gave up only one hit, while striking out seven batters during the 6-0 win over the Pirates at Joe O’Brien Field.
“I felt good today,” Rodriguez said after the win. “I was pumped. It was my first outing here in front of the fans, and I had my guys making some amazing plays back there. So all-in-all, it was a great day.”
It was only the fifth start of his young pitching career, and Rodriguez was quick to mention that it was far and away his best. But perhaps one of the best parts was that Rodriguez got to throw in front of his dad.
“It was cool for him to see me pitch,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez’s dad has been where Dereck wants to go. He made the climb to the major leagues after signing a contract with the Texas Rangers at the age of 16. And once he got to the majors, he made his mark.
His dad is Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, a 14-time MLB All-Star and a 2003 World Series Champion with the Miami Marlins. Pudge spent 20 years in the MLB as a catcher, and is widely considered one of the best catchers of all time.
And he has shared the knowledge he learned during his path with his son.
“When you play in the minor league, it is a lot of work,” Pudge said. “You have to travel on the bus and go a lot of places and stay in hotels, but that is part of being a professional. I think he knows about it. We have been talking about it. He saw when I played, what I had to go through.
“He’s fine with that. Now he just has to pitch right and be the best pitcher that he can be and try and move on.”
Pudge Rodriguez started in the minors in 1989 at the age of 17, he eventually made the climb to the big leagues and made his debut in 1991. From then on, he didn’t change spots on the field like his son. Pudge played more than 2,300 games in the catching position. But he has seen his share of people finding their place on the field.
“I think the mentality is pretty much the same,” Pudge said. “If you focus and you concentrate to do your job, it doesn’t matter what position you play.”
But having caught his fair share of baseball games, including a perfect game that was thrown by Kenny Rogers in 1997 when they played for the Texas Rangers, Pudge has given his son advice about ways to approach the game when he steps on the mound.
“What I have been telling him is to just take one game at a time,” Pudge said. “Now he is a pitcher, so he will have to prepare every five days to pitch a great ball game. He is going to have 90-100 pitches to start with and get comfortable, so I think right now, his goal is to focus on every pitch that he throws.”
And it seemed like Dereck was dialed in during his outing Monday night. Each time he would leave the mound, he would enter his team’s dugout to high-fives and fist bumps and find his same spot atop the bench.
He removed his cap, threw on his hoodie and watched his team bat, before throwing on his cap and his glove and returning to the mound.
It was during that time that he said he didn’t really give much attention to the fact that he had a no-hitter going, until a blooper ruined that during his seventh and final inning. But it was obvious that the fans were aware as they rose to their feet and applauded what they’d seen.
“I didn’t even realize, that I had that going,” Dereck said. “It’s in the back of your mind, but you really don’t think about it. It starts hitting you more when the fans start cheering about every out. You just go out there and pitch your game.”

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