Pudge brings leadership to Nationals
Veteran catcher excited about new club, eyes 3,000 hits
It appeared Ivan Rodriguez's career was nearing the end of the line. After all, he was coming off his worst season in 2009, hitting a combined .249 -- a career low -- and striking out 92 times with the Astros and Rangers.
However, Rodriguez, 38, has found new life with the Nationals, who gave a him two-year, $6 million contract this past offseason. Besides showing great leadership behind the plate and in the clubhouse, Rodriguez is hitting .400 (24-for-60) with seven doubles and eight RBIs.
MLB.com caught up with Rodriguez, who currently has 2,735 hits, recently to talk about the Nationals and reaching the 3,000-hit plateau.
MLB.com: You are off to one of your best starts of your career. Why?
Rodriguez: I'm feeling great. I'm relaxed. This year, I've had some better luck than I did the last two, two and a half years. The last two and a half years, I hit the ball hard, but right at people. I'm still doing the same things -- hitting the ball pretty solidly, finding holes, and they are falling in the outfield. That's probably the reason why I'm off to a good start.
MLB.com: Has there been a mechanical adjustment when it comes to your swing?
Rodriguez: I pretty much have my same batting stance. What I'm doing right now is being more selective, hitting strikes and trying to put the ball in play.
MLB.com: During the past two years, there were baseball experts who thought you were near the end of your career. What was your reaction when you heard the criticism?
Rodriguez: The experts don't know how you feel. I know how I feel. I feel I can play this game for three or four more years. My body feels great. People see that I've been in baseball for such a long time, because I played my first game when I was 19 years old. I've been in this game for 20 years. I love what I do. I love to play baseball. As long as you love what you do, you are going to be in baseball for a long time. That's how I feel. I love this game. I love when I put on a Major League uniform. Twenty years later, I still know what I can do. That's the reason I can tell you that I can play this game for three or four more years.
MLB.com: You are close to 3,000 career hits. How badly do you want to reach that milestone?
Rodriguez: It's a big milestone. It's not easy to get 3,000 hits, and I'm not too far away from it. I'm going to take one day at a time, one game at a time and play hard. Definitely, it's a goal that I want to accomplish. I just thank God that I have a lot of records as a catcher, but my goal is to win another World Series -- one or two more. That's my goal. We have a good team this year. I have faith in my teammates and this team. All we have to do is concentrate, take one game at a time and just [win].
MLB.com: When you reach the 3,000-hit plateau, what would that mean to you?
Rodriguez: It means a lot. It means I worked hard. It means I get ready for a Major League season to play every day. To reach a milestone like that, there are not too many players who can reach that mark and get to 3,000 hits as a catcher. It's pretty awesome. Being a catcher is not an easy position to play. It's a privilege to play it.
MLB.com: People are already saying you are a future Hall of Famer. Do you think you are a Hall of Famer?
Rodriguez: It's hard for me to answer that question. ... People say to me, "You are definitely going into the Hall of Fame." Basically, I don't think about it, because I'm still playing baseball and I'm going to continue to play baseball for a long time. But maybe later on, when it's time for me to walk out of the game, I'll probably look at me career and I'll say, "I probably had a good career."
MLB.com: Has it hit you what you have accomplished in your career?
Rodriguez: Absolutely, of course. It's pretty awesome, because of the position that I play. To have pitchers have great years with me behind the plate, that's an honor for me. To be honest with you, my defense is most important for me in the game.
I became good hitter because I worked hard on it. To this day, I work on my hitting, because hitting the ball is not an easy thing to do. You go out there and you have a pitcher who has the advantage. He can throw you so many different pitches that you have to make sure that you concentrate and try to make contact. It's not an easy thing to do.
To be able to be close to 3,000 hits, it's an honor. It's something that is unexplainable -- just how good my career has been. I'm very pleased. When I walk out of the game, my name is going to stay in the game for a long time.
MLB.com: The Nationals are surprising people by being competitive. Why?
Rodriguez: We have a manager [in Jim Riggleman] who asks us to go out there and play hard. The coaching staff tells you and prepares you to play a game. That's all a manager wants. Basically, we play hard. We have a great team, we have a good lineup and we have good pitching. The chemistry that we have in this clubhouse is very positive. You put all those things together, you take that onto the field, you are going to play the game right. If somebody makes a mistake, everybody supports the player. We are not here to make errors. We are here to do our job and do well all the time. But nobody is perfect in the room. That's how we are. That's the team, that's the mentality that we have this year. That's the reason we are playing great ball.
MLB.com: The season is still young, but how far can this team go in the standings?
Rodriguez: I don't know. We are going to do our best every single day and every single out. We are in a division that is tough. We have Atlanta, Florida, the Mets and the Phillies. But we can't think about other teams. We have to think about us as a team. The only thing we can control is go out there and do the things we have to do to win games. If we do that, we are going to be all right.
MLB.com: In the past eight years, you have played with three teams -- Marlins, Tigers and Nationals -- who have struggled before you arrived. How did you help them turn thing around?
Rodriguez: I want my teammates to like the way I am. I'm a guy who likes to joke around. I like to bring my personality to my teammates. That's the way I am. I was around a lot of veteran players that taught me how to play the game hard. The taught me how to respect my teammates. That's the way I am. I'm a guy who loves all my teammates. I joke with all of those guys.
They can tell you: Players laugh about what I do. I'm a very funny guy. Sometimes they tell me they are surprised about the way I am because I've been in baseball for such a long time. They think I'm the opposite. I'm not. I'm a friendly guy. I love all these guys and I like to have fun. Baseball is a fun sport. It's a game. You have to enjoy it every minute.
MLB.com: Why do you take a chance with teams who have struggled before you arrived?
Rodriguez: I'm not thinking about the team's past. For me, that is a great team. It doesn't matter to me where I play. I play the game hard anywhere I go. I could be on a good team, I could be a bad team. I just play the game the right way all the time and I'm going to support my teammates. It doesn't matter where I'm going to be.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.