If you were born in North Texas between 1980 and 1990, there’s a better than likely chance that Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez has a special place in your heart. There was simply nothing not to love about the guy; he was homegrown, signed by the Rangers at age 16.
He was the most exciting catcher in the game, liable to snap a throw behind a straying base-runner at any given time and with no warning for anyone, first baseman included.
And finally, he was a golden boy, to some degree, quick to sign autographs and quicker to jump on any opportunity to improve his game. Fans of the Rangers saw the stocky kid from Vega Baja grow from a defensive specialist of sorts into a polished Major League hitter in no more than three seasons.
Pudge’s legacy was illustrated best after he left Arlington for good, returning as a Florida Marlin to receive a standing ovation of a duration and intensity usually reserved for ballparks up in the Northeast. That fall, as Rodriguez celebrated a World Series victory, it was as though one of our own had won it all; and it felt good. (This is arguably the closest Rangers’ fans have been to knowing what it’s like to win a World Series.)
Even the most casual Rangers’ fan has followed the catcher throughout his career, to some degree, from Texas to Florida to Detroit to New York and, now it seems, back to Texas. Unfortunately, this is not a flowery biopic and the Rangers are brimming with young talent at catcher; that is why the 37 year-old is headed to Houston and not Arlington.
But this is still somewhat of a happy ending, at this point. We are witnessing an unprecedented era in baseball, one in which an emphasis on youth and self-growth has mixed with an economy in shambles to produce an unprecedented (and staggering) amount of league-tested veterans without a team.
Rodriguez could have been one of the unfortunate and unemployed, had it not been for an impressive showing for Team Puerto Rico at the World Baseball Classic. The wunderkind turned wise veteran is hitting .526 in the tournament, with two home runs and a 1.000 slugging percentage. With numbers like that, it was not a matter of if, but when the big leagues would come calling once again. And that’s why the Houston Astros offered Rodriguez a one-year deal on Monday.
On June 16, the Astros will come to town from Houston. If the Rangers beat their rivals from down south, the stadium might erupt. But it will be a reminiscent madhouse when Pudge takes his first step into the right handed batters box; because, regardless of the logo on his hat, the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area will always be for Ivan Rodriguez.
Scott M. Crisp is a Dallas writer and an amateur sasquatch hunter. You may twitter with him at http://twitter.com/scott_m_crisp.