Kevin Gorman: Pirates can't 'put a price tag' on Sean Rodriguez's role
BRADENTON, Fla. — The boys absolutely adore baseball, so Sean Rodriguez invited them to spend a day with him at LECOM Park and mingle with major leaguers.
Pirates players good-naturedly teased 7-year-old Logan Perez for wearing his Boston Red Sox ballcap and jersey, in honor of his favorite player, Mookie Betts.
Rodriguez rectified the situation, giving Logan and his brother, 10-year-old Sean Santos, Pirates practice jerseys to wear while they stretched with their uncle and his teammates.
“You see very few kids that are genuinely obsessed with baseball,” Rodriguez said. “To be able to share that joy and give them that experience was awesome.
“It's a blessing beyond words. At that age, if I would have been able to do that it would've been unreal.”
Rodriguez gave them another gift, getting the start in left field and hitting a solo home run in his first at-bat against the Red Sox.
It's a role Rodriguez had hoped to play for the Pirates this season, before they traded for All-Star Corey Dickerson last week.
Instead, Rodriguez will reprise his jack-of-all-trades act. The 32-year-old has started at every position but pitcher and catcher.
“I just want to play,” Rodriguez said. “However that lines up is not up to me. I'm ready to play anywhere. As always, I want to find a way to play as much as possible.”
Whether that's as a spot starter or late-inning defensive replacement doesn't matter much to Rodriguez. He treats his teammates the same way he does his nephews, sharing his love for the game and desire to win.
Even if it comes at his own expense of being a starter.
“No doubt, it's a double-edged sword,” Rodriguez said. “I've always seen it that way, but my will to win always supersedes any selfish desires. I feel like that's what dictates or controls my direction most of the time. But it's in there. I take it for what it is and run with it.”
That makes Rodriguez worth every penny of the two-year, $11.5-million contract he signed with the Atlanta Braves last offseason, following a career year for the Pirates in 2016.
“It's hard to put a price tag on a guy like that who can play multiple positions and is good at it,” Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer said. “You're not afraid to play him anywhere. ... The value is in him playing multiple positions and being a leader in the clubhouse.”
Not only did Rodriguez have a .270/.349/.510 slash line with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in 140 games, but he played 57 at first base, 29 at second, 27 at shortstop, 17 in right, 11 at third, 10 in left and five in center.
“That's always a slippery conversation to have because I had a manager one time tell me I was too valuable to start,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I don't buy that. If you're a good player, you start. Sean's a good player. The guys we have in front of him set up better. He presents a tremendous option off the bench, based on the defense and versatility.
“We want to rekindle that stroke that he had two years ago with us so he can spot up anywhere. It's not just a day off or a step down or step back for your offense or defense when he plays.”
What the Pirates see is a supremely conditioned player who doesn't take the game for granted, especially after being injured in an auto accident involving a stolen police cruiser in January 2017. Rodriguez had surgery on his left shoulder, starting the season on the 60-day disabled list and playing in only 15 games for the Braves before being traded to the Pirates on Aug. 5.
Rodriguez realizes that his versatility makes him more valued as a bench player than a starter. And it's reflected in his selfless attitude, which Mercer calls “an unbelievable trait.”
“It's always been the same for me: just push each other to be better,” Rodriguez said. “If me playing better pushes someone else to have to play better so they can stay out there, then so be it. If I elevate my game and it's elevating everyone else's game, then that's collectively going to make us better.”
That's a passion and persona Rodriguez is passing down to the next generation, starting with the nephews who tagged along with their “tio” (uncle in Spanish).
The boys tried to downplay it, but Santos couldn't contain his excitement when Rodriguez reminded him that Gregory Polanco was as cool as promised.
“He said, ‘He's not cooler than you, Tio,' ” Rodriguez said, “so it's a good feeling.”
One that left Rodriguez looking like a superstar to two kids who adore him as much as they do baseball.