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Twins' Rodriguez looking to catch on as a pitcher

June 23rd, 2014 11:10 pm by Joe Avento

Twins' Rodriguez looking to catch on as a pitcher

ELIZABETHTON -- Dereck Rodriguez is playing his second position as a professional baseball player, and surprisingly neither of them is behind the plate.

Rodriguez is a pitcher for the Elizabethton Twins these days. The son of former major-league star catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez began his career as an outfielder.

Being the son of a 14-time major league All-Star catcher and not playing that position, Rodriguez says he’s had to answer the same question a time or two -- “Why aren’t you a catcher?”

“You have to actually love catching to be a catcher,” Rodriguez said Monday before the Twins’ game against the Pulaski Mariners. “You can’t just be back there and just go through the motions. I really didn’t have the passion to be a catcher.”

Rodriguez’s father spent 21 years in the majors, earning the American League’s MVP award in 1999. Dereck picked up his father’s love for the game, just not the position.

“I just didn’t like squatting down for so long,” Dereck Rodriguez said. “I’m still in shock he did that for 21 years. I squat down sometimes for five minutes and I’m in pain already. I can’t imagine three hours.”

Rodriguez, 22, was selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft. He hit .216 in three minor-league seasons -- two in the Gulf Coast League and one in Elizabethton.

He spent the offseason preparing to become a pitcher.

“I pitched a little bit growing up,” he said. “I didn’t pitch at all in high school until my senior year when I was the closer. After that, some teams wanted me as a pitcher and some teams wanted me as an outfielder. But they always knew that was a backup.”

Heading into Monday night’s game, Rodriguez had one appearance and it was a successful one. He earned the win against Greeneville with three innings of scoreless relief.

“I like it,” he said of his new duties. “I like the challenge. It took a little getting used to during the offseason, but it was something I had to do. I had to focus and go after it.”

Getting to hang around major leaguers as he was growing up showed Rodriguez how much work it took to make it big.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “It was a good experience. I saw the attitude it took to make it. Guys work even harder once they make the big leagues just to stay. I met a lot of good guys growing up.”

One guy, in particular, stands out for Rodriguez. His favorite player is the same as his teammate Nick Gordon’s -- Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

“I always loved meeting and seeing Derek Jeter,” Rodriguez said. “He’s my favorite player. He’s always cool. I remember when my dad was going to the All-Star games, I used to sit on the bus next to Derek Jeter. It was a fun experience.”

Being the son of a famous player -- Pudge won the MVP in 1999 by hitting .332 with 35 home runs and 113 RBIs -- doesn’t get a young pro any favors.

“It wasn’t given to me,” he said. “You still have to prove it. You still got to put in the work. It’s nothing like ‘His dad did it, so let’s just put him in.’ It’s something you’ve got to work for.”

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