30 Players in 30 Days: Ivan “Pudge” Rodgriguez

91010-362 ivan rodriguez.JPGEven though the Nationals didn’t make it to the World Series this year, “Pudge” Rodriguez did–sort of–when he returned to his former home in Texas to catch Nolan Ryan’s ceremonial pitch before Game 3 between the Giants and the Rangers. It certainly will not be the last time Pudge is asked to take part in such a ceremonial pitch. The future Hall-of-Famer has amassed 14 All-Star selections, 13 Golden Glove Awards and seven Silver Sluggers in 20 years in the Big Leagues. And he’s not done yet.

He’s 183 hits away from recording his 3,000th hit. He’s smashed over 300 home runs as a catcher alone–that’s good enough for second most among all catchers since 1974. Over his career, he’s thrown out 41.6 percent of baserunners attempting to steal–the third highest percentage of any catcher of all time.

The Nationals knew on December 11, 2009–the day they signed Pudge to a two-year contract–exactly what they were getting. While Pudge’s name will go down among the greats, the team did not expect a season highlighted by career highs or even numbers comparable to his best years. Yet the team got exactly what it wanted from Pudge Rodriguez in 2010.

The Nats leaned on Pudge’s veteran leadership and his proven experience all season. In June, he returned from the 15-day disabled list just in time to catch Stephen Strasburg’s introduction to the Majors–the 14-strikeout, zero-walks-in-seven-complete-innings debut that will go down as one of the greatest debuts of all time. Then in September, he spent the month mentoring Wilson Ramos, the Nationals probable catcher of the future.

Pudge is a stable force, a durable presence behind the plate who saw action in 111 of 162 games in 2010. He is the experienced veteran whose reputation precedes him. Nationals coaches know full well the effect Pudge has on other teams, simply by his presence alone.

“We got Pudge [behind the plate], you see opposing players aren’t trying to run on us very much,” First Base Coach Dan Radison explained. “Their steal attempts, I’m sure, are way down against the Nationals because of his abilities and his reputation. A catcher that people know can really throw, basically they don’t run as much. So while he might not be leading the League in throwing guys out, there ain’t nobody going.” (Note: he did, however, lead the League in 2006 by throwing out 45.7% of baserunners attempting to steal).

Young and old alike respect him. Rookie Drew Storen explained the type of eye-opening experience professional players undergo playing alongside him. Storen says the first time he realized he had finally reached his childhood dream occurred one day in Spring Training: “I would say the first time that it kind of hit me, okay this is kind of cool was when I came in to pitch against the Braves and Pudge was catching. He came out to the mound when I came into the game. That was probably the first time that I really thought this is kind of cool.”

Pudge’s value is in his unparalleled experience that allows him to be a contributing factor both in the clubhouse and on the field. One day, Nats fans will look back and be thankful for this opportunity to watch a legend play in a Nationals uniform, although for two way-too-short years.



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