Tim Rodriguez can’t wait for the day fans love him more for his bat than his acrobatics.
The Spokane Indians outfielder, also known as T-Rod, won over fans last season by doing flips – often many in a row – as his team ran onto the field. This year he’s back in town, still the fan favorite.
“It’d be nice to be known as a baseball player first and then as an acrobat second,” Rodriguez said last week. “I guess if I play better they’ll start knowing me for my baseball skill versus what I do before the game.”
That’s what he’s working on this year.
Last year, Rodriguez batted .265 and had 14 RBIs in 136 at-bats. He played in 41 games in a 75-game season. Manager Tim Hulett – also in his second year with the Indians – has said he wants Rodriguez to step things up a bit this season.
Going into Thursday’s game against the Eugene Emeralds, Rodriguez was the Northwest League’s No. 4 hitter, batting .381 in 21 at-bats. He’d appeared in seven of the Indians’ nine games.
“I’m just trying to make the most of every opportunity to show them that I can play more,” Rodriguez said. “And, when the time comes, I’ll be ready.”
It’s consistency Rodriguez needs to work on, Hulett said last week.
He’s got a quick bat and he runs well. Rodriguez’ game has improved immensely since last year, Hulett said.
“Defensively, he needed some work,” the manager said. “He’s been throwing the ball extremely well in the things that we’ve been doing recently.”
But, perhaps most importantly, Hulett wants Rodriguez to settle into a role as a team leader. Since it’s his second year with the Indians, the 21-year-old knows how things work. As Hulett put it, he wants Rodriguez to be “one of our guys.”
One of the guys who knows the organization, knows what and what not to do, and knows the system in short-season Class-A pro baseball.
Rodriguez, when asked about his role as a leader, gave a blank stare and a smirk.
“Uh, I think we’re all capable of being a leader,” he said. “I know that I can be a leader, I’m not saying I wouldn’t be. But I’m kind of a guy that would like to lead by example, and in order to do that I need to play, I need to get a chance to walk the walk, so to speak.
“I’m a big actions guy.”
He has been his entire life. Rodriguez grew up in Gresham, Ore., a suburb of Portland, hearing baseball stories from his father, Jovino “Rocky” Rodriguez. The sport was his passion, but not Tim’s only one.
He was a gymnast for nine years, practicing for four hours four days a week starting when he was 3 years old. At age 11, he went to the Olympic training center.
Eventually, juggling gymnastics, baseball and school got to be too much. So, at 12, he quit gymnastics and chose to focus on playing baseball.
“My dad, being from Puerto Rico – he was born in 1938, so baseball was king,” Rodriguez said. “People would get bedtime stories, I’d get baseball stories. I don’t know, I wanted to be like my dad.”
He was selected in 2005 by the Texas Rangers out of Centennial High School as a draft-and-follow player, meaning he was drafted (in the 37th round) but not signed.
So he went to Mt. Hood Community College, where he continued to play until finally signing and heading to rookie ball with the AZL Rangers in 2006. There, he threw out his arm and played as a designated hitter.
Last year he ended up in Spokane, and now he’s back for his second year here. He was disappointed, however, that he didn’t move up in the system.
“I’m not moving down, that’s a good thing,” Rodriguez said. “And I’m not really too concerned about plateauing. But I know I’m going to move up one day and I’m just going to work hard until that day comes.
“But I’m not at all bummed to be here.”
He still does his flips to remind everyone at Avista Stadium that pro baseball is meant to be fun, he said. Even though last year, concerned he’d get injured, the Texas Rangers asked him to stop. This season, he’s cut back his flips to one at a time.
“I don’t know how many times I have to explain it to them, it’s seriously like riding a bike,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t even have to think about it.”