Being a leader involves many different things namely communication. This has become a key aspect to Sean Rodriguez’s game and his transformation has been a benefit to his Pittsburgh Pirates’ teammates.
“I don’t know if it’s the Latin in me or just the way my mom raised me,” Rodriguez said. “I love communicating with other guys and getting along. Early on in the spring that was probably one of the toughest things for me, just trying to talk to guys and find a way where I could be more of myself with the guys. I was just trying to find a way to embody the communication with the guys and it’s definitely gotten a whole lot easier. All of the guys see that where I’m coming from is always in a positive realm.”
Upon signing with the Pirates, a decision Rodriguez based on team success and camaraderie, he immediately went to work with manager Clint Hurdle, hitting coach Jeff Branson and assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey on his approach at the plate.
“Obviously the Spring Training numbers are nothing but there was a lot of stubbornness to the approach and a couple of things we’d been working on since within the first couple weeks before games even started just trying to commit,” said Rodriguez. “Spring Training I showed I was able to be stubborn and it was just a matter of carrying it on.”
As of May 18, Rodriguez leads the team with a .318 batting average. He is hitting .440 against right-handed pitching, .412 at PNC Park, .316 in day games and .333 in night games.
Rodriguez previously spent the past five seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays and came off a career year on the offensive end with 12 home runs, 41 runs batted in and one RBI for every 5.78 at bats.
With Rodriguez buying into a new offensive mindset, the seven year major leaguer was also dealing with overcoming new surroundings and the communication challenges that come with it.
“That was something that was definitely difficult,” Rodriguez said. “I’m pretty sure a lot of guys deal with that. It was a process, I can’t pinpoint a particular time but it was a process.”
Hurdle was asked in Philadelphia during a recent team road series about what he liked about Rodriguez, and the answer was 70 seconds, one of the longest during that pregame media session.
“We’ve liked the defensive versatility, the determined focus and determined practice reps,” said Hurdle. “He has a lot of qualities that Russell Martin has as far as intangibles, character. He plays with an edge and plays very focused.”
Hearing those remarks relayed to him brought a smile to Rodriguez.
“Russell is obviously from what I’ve heard from all the guys here, someone they all definitely looked up to and had a lot of respect for,” said Rodriguez. “That’s a compliment especially when you’re talking about a guy and the way he goes about his business. Russell obviously does a lot of really good things on the field but what I’ve heard what he does off the field is definitely a pro.”
As for being a leader on this Pirates team, Rodriguez shrugged it off.
“You take whatever role comes to you and you don’t want to step on any toes, don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable,” Rodriguez said. “You just try to be a good teammate and do your job. Some guys will see you how they see you and some won’t. There’s not one way to look at somebody or what their role is. You just go about doing your thing.”
One thing Rodriguez cannot shrug off is his start to the season. Pirates’ management has shown through actions and words that it strongly believes in its bench. Rodriguez is often first off the bench whether it is to pinch-hit or replace Pedro Alvarez or another Pirate on defense. Rodriguez has played four positions in the field this season and if pressed could play seven.
“They believe in you and understand the role you’re in,” said Rodriguez of Pirates’ management. “They obviously want to see you succeed and when they speak that much about us it means they have a lot of confidence. It’s obviously great, you accept your role, take it for whatever it’s worth and you run with it.”
Hurdle believes Rodriguez has fit in and refers to him as Serpico, the Al Pacino character from the 1973 film with the same title. Rodriguez has not yet seen the movie, though he believes the comparison is accurate.
Speaking to Rodriguez it is clear that he has embraced what he feels represents the Pirate name.
“You look at the guys that came before and how they went about playing the game of baseball,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t take anything too shy or too short when it comes to baseball. Any and every opportunity I get I just get and know I’m going to get after it and give it everything I’ve got. That’s the way you have to go about it.”
Photo courtesy: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports