Cincinnati Reds right-handed pitcher Johnny Cueto started his windup, his hips twisting to allow his chest to face second base. He delivered a slider to San Diego Padres rookie catcher Eddy Rodriguez. Rodriguez had just been called up to the majors after six years in the minors (including two years in independent ball) with two different organizations. Rodriguez was facing the team that drafted him in the 20th round of the 2006 major-league draft from the University of Miami. He had spent three seasons in the Reds’ minor-league system before being released before the 2009 season. Rodriguez was batting eighth in the lineup and stepping in the batter’s box for his first major-league at-bat. It was a sunny afternoon in Cincinnati on Thursday, August 2, 2012.
Cueto hung a slider on a 1-and-2 pitch. Rodriguez swung and drove the ball to deep left-center field. Rodriguez told the author eight years later, “I knew I had it out for a home run.”1 There was no doubt this ball was headed in the stands. Rodriguez sprinted around the bases with a celebratory jog. “Celebrate like you will never get to do it again,” he said.2 It was a “culmination of emotions, shock, numbness, and meant a lot just to have the opportunity.”3 He and his family had made sacrifices to get to this point. He was wearing number 1 on the back of his jersey. As he rounded third, he shook the third-base coach’s hand and crossed the plate for the Reds’ first run of the game. A fan had been gracious enough to return the ball to the field and the ball was thrown into the dugout as Rodriguez reached it. His teammates congratulated him and high fives were being made all around. Rodriguez thought this was the start of a long career in the majors. He didn’t know that this would be the only hit of his career.
Rodriguez was just lucky to be alive. He was born on December 1, 1985, in Villa Clara, Cuba, to Edilio and Ylya Rodriguez. He was 8 years old when he thought his parents were taking him fishing, along with his older sister, Yanisbet, and his cousin, Carlos. Unbeknownst to Eddy, they were leaving Cuba and attempting to defect to the United States. They left Cuba in a small boat on August 29, 1993. They spent four days on the boat, dealing with starvation and storms to reach Miami. Edilio and Ylya did not know if they would survive to give Eddy and his sister a chance at the American dream. “The third day was the worst. There was a storm that made the sea turn black, said a tearful Ylya.”4 One particularly bad storm nearly capsized the boat and drowned the family. Eddy said he could remember everything that happened and was still haunted by the experience. The Coast Guard rescued the family and took them to Miami. Eddy was in the right city to pursue his baseball dreams. However, the most important thing to Eddy was … life.
After reaching the United States, the Rodriguez family had to start over. The family farmed when they lived in Cuba, but left that work behind. Ylya cleaned houses and Edilio worked for a construction company to support the family. But they were grateful to be in the United States.
Eddy fell in love with the University of Miami Hurricanes and with baseball, which he had played in Cuba “with a stick and a taped-up rock.”5 He told his mother he was going to play for the Hurricanes when he was old enough to attend college. His mother said, “Eddy, you know I can’t afford to send you to this university. We just came from Cuba.”6 He told his mother not to worry about paying for it: “Don’t worry. I’ll make it happen.”7 His promise at an early age came true in his sophomore high-school season when he was offered a scholarship with the Hurricanes.
Eddy’s parents signed him up for Little League. Then he starred at Coral Gables High School in Miami. Coral Gables boasts many players who have played professionally, among them major leaguers Yonder Alonso, Mike Fuentes, Mike Lowell, and Eli Marrero. He earned all-Dade County selections during his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. He also earned gold glove awards for his defensive skills at catcher. He was team captain his senior year, hitting .250 with 6 home runs, and 25 RBIs. Rodriguez attended a Perfect Game top prospect showcase in 2002. The scouting report after the showcase said, “Rodriguez might be our pick as the best defensive catcher in high school baseball. Plus arm strength and accurate! Outstanding quickness and agility behind the plate. Looks every bit a major league catcher. He has a pretty nice swing, but we would like to see him be a little more aggressive and attack the ball. He has a very good strong body, quick hands and great balance. Those attributes need to be transferred into his swing. If he hits, he will be a first-round catcher. If he don’t [sic] hit, he will be a top three round catcher.”8
The University of Miami baseball program is one of the most storied programs in NCAA history. As of Rodriguez’s freshman season in 2004, the Hurricanes had won four national championships since 1982 and had 21 College World Series appearances since 1974. They were coming off a 45-17-1 record in 2003 and a trip to the College World Series, in which they were eliminated by national runner-up Texas.
Rodriguez provided depth at catcher in 2004, his freshman year, appearing in 23 games, starting five, hitting .241 to help guide the team to a 50-13 record and a return trip to the College World Series. He was a much-improved player as a sophomore. He started all 55 games, 52 at catcher and three as designated hitter. He hit .320 with 8 home runs and 33 RBIs. He earned all-region honors at catcher and was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the week during the season. He led the Hurricanes to a 41-19-1 record and a NCAA tournament appearance.
The 2006 season, his junior year, was Rodriguez’s year to get noticed. He hit .318 with 9 home runs and 34 RBIs. He was named a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the best collegiate catcher. Rodriguez had a .987 fielding percentage while throwing out 39 percent of would-be basestealers. He led the Hurricanes to a 42-24 record and another appearance in the College World Series. After defeating Oregon State in the first game, they lost to Rice and eventual national champion Oregon State. The Cincinnati Reds selected Rodriguez in the 20th round of the 2006 draft. Rodriguez decided to forgo his senior season and turn pro. He signed with the Reds and reported to their Gulf Coast League affiliate in Sarasota, Florida. The young boy who barely survived escaping Cuba was now a professional baseball player.
Rodriguez played in seven games for the GCL Reds, and for2007 the Reds assigned him to Dayton of the low Class-A Midwest League. Rodriguez played in 83 games, hitting .236 with 6 home runs and 33 RBIs.
Rodriguez started the 2008 season with the Sarasota Reds in the advanced Class-A Florida State League. In 70 games he batted. 201 with 5 home runs and 20 RBIs. He finished the season with the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Double-A Southern League, batting .240 in 28 plate appearances. He went to major-league spring training in 2009 but was released by the organization on April 3. As best he could tell, the club simply felt they had better options.9 No other organization signed him, so Rodriguez spent the next two seasons in the independent leagues. In 2020 he called his release at an early age “the best thing that ever happened to me.”10 He went to the independent leagues and improved on his defensive catching skills. He said the talent level in independent ball is just as good as the majors, that the players are “humble and busting their tails”11 to get back to Organized Baseball. He had a great second year in the American Association (.259, 13 home runs, 55 RBIs in 80 games with Sioux Falls in 2010). He had made up his mind that he was not going back to the American Association for a third year. If a major-league team did not sign him, he would retire and return to Florida to teach and fish. The San Diego Padres scouted him and liked what they saw, so they signed the 25-year-old catcher on February 15, 2011. He said of his time in the American Association, “I am eternally grateful for the opportunity they gave me.”12
Rodriguez spent the 2011 season playing with three Padres minor-league teams, from A ball to six games with Triple-A Tucson. He played in a combined 70 games hitting .246 with 10 home runs and 30 RBIs.
Rodriguez’s 2012 season was a special one for him. He began the season with the Advanced-A Lake Elsinore Storm. On July 31 the Padres’ rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal was placed on the disabled list. Rodriguez was watching the game when Grandal was hurt. (It was an offday for him.) He thought he might get called up to Double A to replace the catcher who might get promoted. He never thought he himself would get promoted to the majors. But his manager, Shawn Wooten, called him and said, “Eddy, you aren’t going to Double A, you are going to the majors.”13 It was one of the best days of his life and he said he was “grateful to the Padres for giving him the opportunity.”14
It was 86 degrees on Thursday, August 2, 2012. The Padres were playing at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. The Padres entered the game with a record of 44-62. Rodriguez was in the starting lineup, the catcher, batting eighth. His major-league debut was against the team that had drafted him six years earlier. Ross Ohlendorf was the starting pitcher for the Padres and Johnny Cueto was on the mound for the Reds. Cueto and Rodriguez were batterymates in the Reds organization. Cueto had not given up a home run since May 25, when Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton hit a two-run shot off him. Rodriguez said later, “We still talk and when we see each other, he gives me a smirk, knowing it was his first home run given up since May.”15
Rodriguez finished the game 1-for-3 with the home run and a walk in a 9-4 loss to the Reds. (He was the second Padre to hit a home run in his first major-league at-bat.) He started another game on August 6. He went 0-for-2 with a walk and two strikeouts in a Padres win over the Chicago Cubs. Three days later Rodriguez was optioned to Triple-A Tucson.
Rodriguez finished the season with Tucson, but immediately after the Toros’ season the Padres designated him for assignment, removing him from the 40-man roster. Rodriguez attended the Padres’ 2013 spring training as a nonroster invitee. He spent the entire season between Triple-A Tucson and Double-A San Antonio. At the end of the season, he was not offered a contract, and became a free agent.
Rodriguez signed with the Tampa Bay Rays for the 2014 season. He played in only 13 games for the Triple-A Durham Bulls before being released on May 5. He signed with the Boston Red Sox on May 22 but spent much of the season as a minor-league coach, thinking his playing career was over. He was in Puerto Rico when the New York Yankees called with another shot.
Rodriguez spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Double-A Trenton, and all of 2016 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He signed with the Minnesota Twins organization in December 2016 but was released at the end of spring training. He re-signed with the Yankees in April 2017 and spent the season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Rodriguez was out of baseball in 2018 but in 2019 was the Los Angeles Angels’ minor-league catching coordinator. It was his first coaching position. He was named a catching coach with the Miami Marlins for the 2020 season with a two-year contract. The young Marlins made the expanded playoffs as a wild-card team with 31-29 record during a pandemic-shortened season. The pandemic-shortened season could have easily been a disaster for the Marlins, who numerous COVID-19 cases, with up to 18 or 19 players gone at one point. Rodriguez said, “The credit goes to the players. They could have used every excuse to fold their cards in July but they overcame the adversity and busted their tails to have a playoff season.”16
A resident of Melbourne, Florida, with his wife and two children, Rodriguez worked with young players in the offseason. He became involved with youth baseball camps, hosting catching lessons virtually under the name Gold Glove Catching. He was also the technology integration and catching director with the TNXL Academy in Ocoee, Florida.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and the following:
Charity, Kevin. “Who the Heck is Eddy Rodriguez?” Fansided, August 1, 2012, friarsonbase.com/2012/08/01/who-the-heck-is-eddy-rodriguez/.
Jenkins, Drew. “Eddy Rodriguez Brings Feel Good Story to the Tampa Bay Rays,” Fansided, January 14, 2014. rayscoloredglasses.com/2014/01/14/eddy-rodriguez-brings-feel-good-story-tampa-bay-rays/.
Katz, Marc. “Daring Escape Brought Dragons Catcher to America/Cuban-Born Eddy Rodriguez and His Family Crossed Stormy Seas on a Small Fishing Boat in 1993,” Dayton Daily News, June 5, 2007. web.archive.org/web/20140611111240/http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-11996982.html.
Kerasotis, Peter. “For the Yankees’ Other Rodriguez, Little Fanfare but Big Adventures,” New York Times, March 15, 2015. nytimes.com/2015/03/16/sports/baseball/for-the-yankees-other-rodriguez-little-fanfare-but-big-adventures.html.
Miami Hurricanes baseball web page, miamihurricanes.com/roster/eddy-rodriguez/.
2020 Miami Marlins Media Guide, 33.
Rodriguez, Ken. “After Escaping Cuba as a boy, Eddy Rodriguez Living His Dream,” Sports Illustrated, July 24, 2013. si.com/mlb/2013/07/24/eddy-rodriguez.
2013 San Diego Padres Media Guide, 146, 196.
Snyder, Matt. “Thursday’s Feel-Good Moment: Eddy Rodriguez Homers in First Big-League At-Bat,” CBS Sports, August 2, 2012. cbssports.com/mlb/news/thursdays-feel-good-moment-eddy-rodriguez-homers-in-first-big-league-at-bat/.
TXNL Academy, Ocoee, Florida. tnxlacademy.com.
1 Eddy Rodriguez, telephone interview with Gerard Kwilecki, October 19, 2020.
2 Rodriguez interview.
3 Rodriguez interview.
4 Omar Kelly, “Living American Dream,” South Florida Sun Sentinel, June 9, 2006. sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-2006-06-09-0606081598-story.html.
8 Perfect Game Showcase, June 14, 2002. perfectgame.org/Players/PlayerProfile.aspx?ID=108647.
9 Eddy Rodriguez e-mail to author, October 26, 2020.
10 Rodriguez interview.
11 Rodriguez interview.
12 Rodriguez interview.
13 Rodriguez interview.
14 Rodriguez interview.
15 Rodriguez interview.
16 Rodriguez interview.