The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

May 10, 2013

Ex-Cardinal Rodriguez happy to be playing with Wingnuts

Wichita to face T-Bones on Sunday in Joplin

There aren’t many things John Rodriguez hasn’t seen on a baseball field.

Rodriguez has played pro ball for 16 seasons and was a member of the 2006 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

However, going to the park never gets old for Rodriguez.

“Every day is a new journey,” he said “You don’t know what’s going to happen. I still enjoy playing everyday.”

Now 35, Rodriguez is a designated hitter for the Wichita Wingnuts, an independent minor league team in the American Association.

Rodriguez and the Wingnuts will face the Kansas City T-Bones in an exhibition game at 2 p.m. Sunday at Joe Becker Stadium.

“I love this game, even in the minor leagues,” Rodriguez said. “The money is nice, but I play for the love of the game. I loved it since the first day I started until today. If I can wake up, feel good and still produce for my team, I will keep playing until my body tells me to stop.”

Rodriguez played 158 regular-season games for the Cardinals during the 2005 and 2006 seasons as an outfielder and pinch hitter.

He hit .295 with five home runs and 24 RBI over 56 games in 2005, helping the Cardinals to the NLCS.

In 2006, Rodriguez hit .301 with 17 extra-base hits over 102 games. He played in six postseason games as the Cardinals went on to beat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

“It was amazing,” Rodriguez said. “It was definitely a childhood dream come true. It was a great team ... It was a great group of guys. I love St. Louis. The city will always have a big place in my heart.”

Rodriguez was eventually released by the Cardinals after spending the 2007 season in Triple-A. Since then, he has played in the minors for the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Mets and New York Yankees organizations. The past three seasons, he has played for independent teams.

But make no mistake, Rodriguez can still hit. He batted .332 with 16 homers over 94 games for the Wingnuts last season.

“The best compliment I can give a hitter is saying that he’s a professional hitter,” Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. “He’s a professional hitter. The guy can flat out hit. He can hit the other way. He can pull the ball. He can still hit it a long ways. We were taking batting practice (Thursday), and he hit one to the street over right field.”

And for a guy who has played with the likes of Albert Pujols and against pitchers like Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, Rodriguez has plenty of wisdom to offer Wichita’s younger players.

“He’s my guy,” Hooper said. “The bottom line is that he’s a leader. He plays DH for us, so he doesn’t even play on the field. But when we’re on defense, he’s in the dugout cheering everyone on. He runs ground balls out. He plays the game right. He’s a great example.”

Tasting the life of the big leagues hasn’t made Rodriguez jaded toward being in the minors.

“I’m actually humbled,” Rodriguez said. “It’s different with some guys, but I don’t complain about it. God can give you, and God can take away. I don’t take anything for granted. If I’m taking a plane ride to a game, I’m taking a plane ride. If the team is taking a bus, I’m taking a bus.

“I enjoyed every minute in the majors, and I’m enjoying every minute now.”

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