Rays' Rodriguez groomed by father for baseball
Versatile utility man learned to appreciate game from Minor League coach/dad
In anticipation of Father's Day, the manager of the Johnson City Cardinals -- St. Louis' Rookie affiliate in the Appalachian League -- had some advice for Rays left fielder Sean Rodriguez.
"My Father's Day advice to him," Johnny Rodriguez said, "is to be a good father and work hard to maintain those four children and wife -- to maintain your home.
"He's got an opportunity to play the next 10 years, at least, in the big leagues -- to set himself up for life. So I say, 'Be a good father. Be a leader -- to your team and to your home.'"
Sean, now 29 years old, has been living by Johnny's words for, well, 29 years. From the time his son was a baby, after all, Johnny made sure Sean was never treated like one. He raised his son like he coaches his Minor Leaguers.
"I've been in baseball a long time, and when Sean was little, I knew there was one thing I had to teach him, because nowadays players are not taught it even at the big league level, that you earn everything in life," Johnny Rodriguez said. "It happens a lot with No. 1 picks -- they're babied and carried all the way to the big leagues. I said to him when he was little, 'I don't know what round you'll go, or if you'll ever play the game. But I'll tell you one thing you're gonna do -- you're gonna control the controllable, which is every time you walk on that field, you give everything or beyond.'"
Or maybe Johnny coaches his players like he raised his son.
"That's the mentality I brought him up with," Johnny said. "Sean has four children and a wife. You know how hard it is nowadays. I know he has a nice job, but I said, 'Now that you're there, you have to sustain it.' And in life, nothing is gonna be given on a platter. I see too many players babied -- the reason they don't perform in the big leagues is because they're babied.
"You have to teach men to be men. If not, what are we doing? We're creating babies."
So when Sean was in Little League, his father managed his son his way -- like he wasn't the coach's kid.
"I never treated him as my son," Johnny said. "Never -- on the field."
Sean, of course, like every Little Leaguer, wanted to play shortstop. His dad stuck him in the outfield.
"I played him in center when he was the best shortstop on the team," Johnny Rodriguez said matter-of-factly.
That's where the team needed him, so that's where he'd play.
"We're better with you at center and the other kid at short," Johnny would tell Sean. "You're the best one we have in center field -- you're the best one we have in right field."
Sean could play anywhere, but where he did play depended on the eight kids around him and where they could play, too.
That flexibility, Johnny said, has helped Sean carve out his role in Major League Baseball, as the "million-dollar babies" fail. For the Rays, Rodriguez can play left field, second base, third or first -- he's on the depth chart for each position. He's even the team's emergency catcher. That all started under coach Johnny.
"Not that I couldn't be the everyday star on the team," Sean said. "No, he would tell me, 'Look, you're gonna hit third or fourth if I know that you're gonna be the guy that's gonna get the big hit or help the team win.'
"He always looked to me to do that, always expected me to do that -- and when I didn't do it, he was never mad at me. He always made sure that I didn't feel as if I had to be the guy: 'You can be the guy, you should be the guy -- but if not, so what? You know the next guy can do it, too.'"
That philosophy applies even more so now. Sean Rodriguez is a Major League ballplayer -- he's made it to big leagues, where the nine guys who take the field were all the best player on their Little League team. A lot of them probably even played shortstop.
And Sean is certainly no baby. Whenever there's an altercation -- and there have been plenty, the Rays and Red Sox have seen to that -- he is in the middle of it. This season, he was even ejected (unjustly, maintains manager Joe Maddon) during the benches-clearing altercation between Tampa Bay and Boston in St. Petersburg, despite being uninvolved in the play that started the scuffle.
Johnny can claim a hand in that, too. He used to say to Sean, "You're a football player on a baseball team." He told him, "There's not a wall you're not gonna run through. There's not a ball that's gonna drop in front of you. There's not a ball you're not gonna dive to get to. Because every ball, you've got a chance at."
So Sean is quick to act, more than he is to speak. With Father's Day approaching, then, the younger Rodriguez -- whose fourth child was born in April -- left the dispensing of advice to his dad and shared a simple message.
"Happy Father's Day for my old man, happy Father's Day for me -- it's pretty cool," Sean said.
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.