Rodriguez's wait with Marlins could be worth it
Well-respected skipper excited to run his first big league camp
MIAMI -- Guarantees never mattered to Edwin Rodriguez.
Unpretentious and unassuming, Rodriguez simply asked for and eventually received the opportunity to manage the Marlins on a regular basis.
It didn't happen overnight. In fact, Rodriguez had to wait a full month after the 2010 season ended for the job to become his.
On Nov. 3, the day after the World Series finished, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria called Rodriguez to his office in New York. Shortly afterward, it was announced that the 50-year-old former infielder was staying for 2011.
During those few weeks, the organization considered its options, such as former Mets and Rangers skipper Bobby Valentine (an ESPN analyst) and former Marlins coach Bo Porter (now third-base coach for the Nationals). Rodriguez stuck out for several reasons -- mainly the respect he earned from the players and the job he did under difficult circumstances.
"As we entered the offseason, we talked and talked and talked, and we kept coming back to Edwin and the job that he had done," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "Ultimately, Jeffrey made the decision that he wanted him back, and we were all behind that decision."
Showing patience is nothing new for Rodriguez.
Prior to replacing Fredi Gonzalez, Rodriguez had spent eight seasons in Florida's Minor League system. He was managing Triple-A New Orleans when he was notified that the organization was replacing Gonzalez.
Six days later, after the team interviewed Valentine and Porter, Rodriguez was informed he would manage the team for the remainder of 2010.
Rodriguez has a contract for 2011, but no guarantees of returning next season, when the team is to move into its new retractable-roof ballpark.
So once again, Rodriguez is in a familiar situation. He is dealing with the present and not worrying about the future. The way Rodriguez sees it, if he and the team perform, he will stick around.
"I'm going to deal with the situation the same way that I dealt with it last year," Rodriguez said. "When they called me up back in June, it was a one-day deal, a one-week deal, and so I just concentrated on the task at hand.
|" I think we can concentrate more on playing fundamental baseball, playing more basic baseball. That's what Spring Training is going to be all about."|
|-- Edwin Rodriguez|
Along with being the 10th manager in Marlins history, Rodriguez has the distinction of being the first Puerto Rican-born manager in Major League history.
In 2010, an injury-depleted Florida squad finished 80-82 overall, 46-46 with Rodriguez at the helm.
The one thing Rodriguez hoped for was a chance to manage a big league team from the beginning of Spring Training.
By entering with a season already under way, Rodriguez encountered difficult challenges. He had to get to know the players without having time preparing with them. Also, he was inheriting another manager's system.
Basic strategies, like how to shift or pitch to certain batters, had already been implemented before Rodriguez arrived. So while he was getting acclimated to his new job, he didn't want to make wholesale changes for his players and the rest of the staff.
With the Marlins set to start Spring Training, it's a fresh start for everyone and an opportunity for Rodriguez to put his stamp on the club.
Over the next six weeks, Rodriguez plans on preaching the obvious. Fundamentals will be heavily stressed.
The Marlins committed 123 errors in 2010, the fifth most in the Major Leagues. So there will be added emphasis on the basics of defense.
"I think we can concentrate more on playing fundamental baseball, playing more basic baseball," Rodriguez said. "That's what Spring Training is going to be all about. We're going to concentrate on the little things, making sure we make the routine plays.
"Our pitchers, we want them to be aggressive, pound the strike zone and be efficient. That's what we're going to be concentrating on in Spring Training."
Off the field, Rodriguez is known for being laid-back and calm. Yet during games, he is intense and no-nonsense.
"He's real. If something bugs him, he's going to tell you," said right fielder Mike Stanton, who played for Rodriguez in the Minor Leagues. "He's not going to sit back behind the scene and talk about it with everyone else and you find out about it when it trickles through. He is going to come up to you and tell you if you are doing something right or something wrong. And he's level-headed about it.
"He's not going to overemphasize if you do something good. He's not going to overemphasize if you do something bad. He's going to tell you how it is straight-up, and he is the same with everybody. That is how it is."
All-Star pitcher Josh Johnson was impressed by how Rodriguez held the club together after Gonzalez was replaced.
"He's going to tell you how it is," Johnson said. "He didn't sugarcoat it or anything. He was like, 'We are going to work on this, this and this.' That was about it. I was like, 'All right.' There is no reason to sugarcoat it. We're all men. We either get better or we don't. That was our plan from day one. That's what you look for in a manager."
As a player, Rodriguez spent small parts of three seasons in the big leagues, collecting just 22 at-bats with the Yankees and Padres. He remained involved in the game after he stopped playing, and he's worn many hats. He previously managed and was a general manager in Puerto Rico, and he has scouted in the big leagues.
As a player, Rodriguez was known for being fiery. It didn't take him long to show it as a big league manager.
In the second inning of his first game, Rodriguez wasted little time defending his players to an umpire.
On June 24 in Baltimore, the Orioles' Matt Wieters slid into third base on Cesar Izturis' double. Collecting Chris Coghlan's throw at the base was Wes Helms, who believed he tagged Wieters. But umpire CB Bucknor ruled Wieters safe. Helms argued, and Rodriguez sprinted out of the dugout to voice his protest.
"I have to go out there. It was instincts," Rodriguez said that night. "I didn't even realize I was in the big leagues. It was instincts. I thought Wes made the tag. [Bucknor] told me he was too far out to see the play."
From the Marlins' dugout, the players took notice.
"We were like, 'This is awesome.' He has been here for two innings, and he is out there getting on the umpire," Johnson said. "He earned respect really quickly."