To Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Julio Rodriguez You can probably upgrade to first class.
Now the enthusiastic outfielder travels from city to city with his teammates on the Seattle Mariners’ charter, his 2021 season was an entirely different story. As a 20-year-old prospect, Rodriguez spent most of the last year either shining baseball diamonds or racking up commercial airline miles.
Rodriguez spent three worthy stints for the Dominican national team in two Olympic qualifiers and the Tokyo Olympics in Japan. So at least in one year he has led to a very hectic travel schedule with 22 flights, 100 hours flying and over 40,000 miles traveled.
Just one year into his teens, Rodriguez dominated. In his 74 games with his affiliate two Mariners, he recorded his OPS of 1.001 and hit a home run in Tokyo that put him in a 10-24 performance, helping Team DR win the Olympic Baseball Tournament. He helped Japan win a bronze medal, its first ever medal.
“Julio is a different type of person,” said Jose Gomez, general manager of the 2021 Olympic team. “He’s just a baseball junkie.
Promising players like Rodriguez aren’t usually given permission by major league clubs to play in international competition during the minor league season. A precarious environment can be difficult for young players to adjust to, and travel can be a burden.
But Gomez and his front office insisted on Rodriguez anyway, adding him to a long list of affiliated players who wanted to join Team DR in the first qualifier to be held in Florida the first week of June. Did. With 40 of his MLB players banned from playing in the Olympics or Olympic qualifiers, the Dominican roster includes older former major league players such as Jose Bautista and his career playing abroad such as Jumbo Diaz. Turns out to be a mix of journeymen. .
“We thought it was very, very, very unlikely that Julio would be allowed to play,” Gomez recalled. He and his colleagues planned a full roster in the hope that Rodriguez, along with other Dominican hopefuls, including Wonderhis Franco and Ronnie Mauricio, would miss the qualifiers.
However, Rodriguez decided to participate.
“I always wanted to play for the Dominican team,” he told FOX Sports in May. I wasn’t sure if they would allow it.”
But once Rodriguez revealed to his agent, Ulises Cabrera, how much he wanted permission from Seattle, the Mariners allowed him to take a week off to join his compatriots in Florida. have decided to
“when [the Mariners] They said they would support me. [be on that team,]’” Rodriguez recalled.
And he traveled as much of the continental United States as possible, from Everett, Washington to Port St. Lucie, Florida. Unsurprisingly, Rodriguez shone and helped Team DR to his 2nd place finish and advance to the next round of qualifiers.
At that point, Gomez and team skipper Hector Borg didn’t think they’d get Seattle’s clearance for the next round or the Tokyo roster if they qualified. But in Florida, Rodriguez forced everyone’s hand.
“I remember him coming up to me after the last game,” Borg said. “And he said, ‘Bogie, I’m going to be on this team. I’m going to the Olympics and I’m going to win a medal.'”
At the post-match press conference that day, Rodriguez announced that he would be joining the team for the next game.
“We haven’t gotten the clearance from the Mariners yet,” Gomez said. “But I think as soon as Julio said a little bit, they realized how important it was to him and brought him on board.”
So after returning cross-country to Everett, Rodriguez rushed to Puebla, Mexico for final qualifying. Team DR won and qualified for Tokyo. However, while Rodriguez was in Mexico, there was little time to celebrate as the Mariners promoted him from High-A Everett to Arkansas’ Double-A affiliate.
He spent the next few weeks in Arkansas and also traveled to Denver for the 2021 Futures Games. He then joined Team DR in Tampa and practiced for a few days before traveling to Tokyo.
“The Mariners didn’t want him to lose too many at-bats, so he was the last player to arrive,” Gomez recalled. “I picked him up at the airport. He landed and wanted to go straight to this Dominican restaurant in Tampa. Had to take all these COVID tests for him.”
Playing against a pitcher 10 years older than him in Tokyo, Rodriguez was instrumental in helping the Dominican team beat South Korea in the bronze medal game, marking his name in domestic sports history. For a country with such a vast and rich baseball history, the Dominican Republic will long remember his 2021 summer.
Rodriguez’s trip home to the United States wasn’t all that fun. After his team spent their final night in Los Angeles together at the Olympics, he boarded a plane to rejoin the Double-A affiliate of the Arkansas Mariners. But when he landed and took out his cell phone, he realized something was wrong.
“I was like, ‘Okay, let me take an Uber,'” he says, his trademark grin spreading across his face. That’s when I realized I was in Northwest Arkansas, where the Royals team is, and I was supposed to be in Little Rock.”
“Yeah, it’s my fault,” Gomez admitted with a laugh.
Rodriguez eventually found his way to a proper city in Arkansas and, after taking a day off, quickly won the first game, 2-4. The show continues.
“I never saw him tired all summer long,” Borg said. “He has a youthful energy.”
The whole experience speaks to both Rodriguez’s unique personality and the trust the Mariners place in their young superstar. Most teams played it safe and forbade the future of the franchise from risking injury in a game that was beyond their jurisdiction, but the Mariners let the Julio remain.
And now they are reaping the rewards.
“Maybe I’m biased,” Borg said. “But I think his time last summer helped him adapt to the big leagues faster. I got used to it.”
“Obviously in the minors you play hard every day, but whenever you have that treasure in front of you… it’s just different,” he said. i don’t think i can play.
“But you have to be able to withstand all that pressure and run no matter what – that’s why. [the Mariners] He allowed me to stand on that stage. ”
Jake Mintz, the loud half of @Cespedes BBQ, Baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan who lives in New York City and spends most of October alone. If he doesn’t watch baseball, he almost certainly rides a bike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake Mintz.
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