Remembering 2012: Profile of Liubiemithz Rodriguez
It may be the slowest time of the year for Revolution news, but we still have plenty to post here in case you missed it during the season. As we did last year, we’ll be posting a different column at the beginning of each week from the past season of the York Revolutionary Times in case you missed an issue at the ballpark.
Not Yet, But Pretty Soon
Revs’ Rodriguez preparing himself for a second act to his baseball career
By Ron Gardner
At age 35, Revs second baseman Liubiemithz Rodriguez knows his days as an active player are dwindling all too quickly.
“Not yet, but pretty soon,” says Rodriguez with an easy smile, an uncommon reaction from most baseball players facing their fate in this same circumstance. “It’s really hard for players to quit this game – to retire.”
So after 16 professional seasons playing a game he passionately loves, how can Rodriguez seem content, even relaxed, when discussing his life after baseball? Maybe it’s because Rodriguez has already begun full-fledged work on what he hopes will be a decades-long second act to his baseball career, first as a coach, and hopefully one day, as a manager.
“I’m 100% ready mentally to quit as a player and start a new career as a coach,” the 5-9, 170-pound Rodriguez said. “I don’t want to try (coaching) … I want to be a coach. I want to be a manager someday. Not now, but probably (in) five or six years. I have to learn a lot of things about this game to be a manager.”
Now playing in his fourth season with York, Rodriguez is officially listed on the team’s roster as a player-coach, although at this point, he still considers himself more of a player than a member of the coaching staff.
“I just try to stay away from the coaches’ office and all that stuff, because I just feel like I’m still a baseball player,” Rodriguez said, stating that his new title hasn’t changed any of his relationships inside the Revolution clubhouse. “I’m still the same guy even if I’m a coach or a player.”
A native of Maracay, Venezuela, Rodriguez is following a similar path to the one taken by third-base coach Enohel Polanco, who served as the Revs’ first-ever player-coach in 2010 before becoming a full-time coach the following season. This season, with the slick-fielding Rodriguez still displaying lots of range and a strong arm on defense, along with a very potent bat (.327 BA, 1 HR, 18 RBI in his first 34 games after hitting just .231 in 2011), Rodriguez is able to keep playing while focusing on developing the knowledge and skills he’ll need as a coach in the future. He knows he’s got a great opportunity with York to build his coaching acumen.
“I want to be a coach and I need to learn,” said Rodriguez, who played in a total of 39 career major-league games with the Chicago White Sox in 1999. “That’s why I need more time. Now I try to learn from Mase (pitching coach Mark Mason) about this game, I’m trying to learn this game from (manager) Andy (Etchebarren). It’s a great time for me to learn about this game from my coaches.”
Rodriguez has also coached in the high-profile Venezuelan Winter League, working alongside experienced big-league personnel who helped him learn some of the game’s finer points.
“They taught me a lot of things about the way to coach third base and the way to coach first base,” Rodriguez said. “It’s similar, but there are different things to do when you coach third base or first base.”
It was also in his native Venezuela that Rodriguez has shown that enjoys the hands-on process teaching young players how to play the game at a professional level. Three years ago, Rodriguez started his own baseball academy in Maracay, working with about a dozen 14 to 16-year-olds from the area that he has hand-picked as having the raw tools needed to potentially play pro baseball. None of these young players pay anything to receive the intensive instruction provided by Rodriguez and the other coaches, who keep the academy going while Rodriguez is away playing in the United States.
These days, Rodriguez is very excited because one of his academy players is about to be signed by the Cincinnati Reds as an international free agent – his first player ever inked by a big-league organization. It’s a very big deal for the player (and Rodriguez), who knows that first professional contract will change the course of that player’s life.
“It would be a good contract for this kid,” Rodriguez said. “I (will) feel so happy when those kids get signed because that’s my payment. When they sign, I (will) feel so good because I know I did something good for somebody else.”
Rodriguez’s ability to teach younger players is also paying dividends for the Revolution. For example, Etchebarren credits Rodriguez for helping teammate Andres Perez to significantly upgrade his defensive play in the infield.
“He’s done a tremendous job with Perez at second base, especially with his throwing and double plays,” Etchebarren said. “Perez has made great strides and it’s because if him and Polanco. He’s gone out of his way to really help him.”
Perez is also quick to acknowledge the value of Rodriguez’s help, during practice and in games.
“The longer you play, you pick up little tricks – anticipation and things like that,” Perez said. “During the games, if he sees something, he’ll let me know about it. He’s done a great job as far as helping me out.
“The other day we worked on some pivots (on throws) from third base, making sure I moved my feet and not just relying on your arm strength (when throwing to first base to complete the double play). That’s been helpful for me as well. I’m eager to learn. If anybody’s got any advice, I’m always listening. You’ve definitely got to listen when he’s going to tell you something.”
With the success he’s having so far this season, both as a player and as a coach, Rodriguez isn’t sure yet if he’ll be back with the Revs next year as a player, coach or player-coach. If he continues to be productive as a player the balance of this season, Rodriguez said he welcome the chance to reprise his player-coach role with the Revs in 2013.
“We’ll see,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not depending on me. Andy’s the guy who will make that call. If he really needed me next year as a player-coach or not – we’ll see what happens. It just depends on Andy – whatever he says, I’m available to do. He’s the boss. I’m so happy to be here. So, if they give me the chance to be in the same situation next year, I’d be right back.”
Etchebarren said while it’s too early to begin thinking about spots for next season just yet, he loves what he’s seen with Rodriguez’s teaching skills and patience in working with other players. For Rodriguez to build a coaching resume that will enable him to be considered for professional managerial opportunities, Etchebarren knows from personal experience that Rodriguez will likely need to travel a long, winding coaching road.
“The one thing he’s got going for him (is) he’s very bi-lingual,” Etchebarren said. “He understands Spanish and you can understand him when speaks English. He’s going to have to start out in the Gulf Coast League or Arizona League with the young players, or extended spring training because there are a lot of Latin players left in extended spring trainings. I think that’s probably the place he’s going to have to start with a (major-league) organization.
“It’s a long, hard road and coaches in the lower minor leagues don’t make much money, but he’ll make more money there than he does here. Hopefully, we’ll get him a job.”
So while Rodriguez’s playing days may indeed be numbered, he’s excited about the coaching journey that lies ahead for him.
“I’ve been playing this game a long time, about 16 years, and I have big-league experience, so it’s a great time for me to try something different like coaching,” Rodriguez said. “I want to be in this game for the rest of my life. I don’t (ever) want to be out of this game. I’m trying to be inside the game, involved in different ways like coaching now. I’m really happy. I want to just try.”