Falmouth Commodores’ Rodriguez Plays Ball To Cope With Personal Tragedy
By: Taylor C. Snow
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
It’s a common cliche that gets thrown around all too often; but it’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Falmouth Commodore catcher/second baseman Jake Rodriguez.
The returning Oregon State junior was activated nearly two weeks after the beginning of the season, and unlike some ballplayers who arrive tardy because of the College World Series or making up final exams, Jake suited up late because of a recent loss: the death of his father, coach and friend Marco Rodriguez.
On June 7, as Jake was hitting in the OSU batting cages, he received a phone call from his mother, Nancy, saying that his father, known to family and friends simply as Tony, had been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance due to shortness of breath. Jake immediately packed his bags, got in his car with his girlfriend, Ashley, and drove over 500 miles south to his then-hometown of Elk Grove, California, arriving after 2 AM on Friday.
It was discovered that Tony, a traveling businessman working for a label-making company based in Chicago, had a blood clot in his leg and would have to stay at the hospital until it dissolved.
Once Jake had the opportunity to visit his father, he and his three sisters did so, and they spent all of Friday at his side. Then the next day, Jake spent the entire day with his dad, one-on-one, before he had to leave Sunday for a final exam the following day back at OSU.
The Rodriguezes spoke to the doctors that Sunday, who said that the blood clot had dispersed and he was “good to go.”
Jake sat and talked with his dad for another hour and a half before hitting the road, but about an hour into his trip he received a phone call from his sister Meagan, telling him he needed to come back.
When he arrived home he found out the news; the clot had actually migrated to his lung, obstructed his blood flow and caused a sudden death. Tony was only 43 years old.
As Jake sat on the right field bleachers of the Arnie Allen Diamond and retold the surreal story of his father’s recent death, tears welled in his eyes and he called it “the worst day of my life.”
“He was a great role model for me on and off the field,” said Jake of his father, who had been his baseball coach up until age 11. “I learned everything from him, and he made me want to be a better person.”
“He was a man that took pride in leadership skills and was never one to judge others,” Jake continued, saying that when he someday becomes a father, he hopes he can become the type of father that he had growing up.
In that last Saturday of Tony’s life, he helped Jake set his goals for the summer and beyond, getting him excited for the upcoming Commodores season.
“He wouldn’t want anything else for me right now, than me being out here playing baseball,” said Jake. “He wanted me to come out here, not just from a baseball standpoint, but just as a learning experience in general.”
Last summer Jake’s father, mother and three sisters came out to watch him, and even got a chance to see him play in the Cape League All-Star Game at Fenway Park.
But this summer his father will only be with him in spirit, which, for Jake, is comforting: “I know he’ll be helping me get through the summer down here, that’s for sure.”
In his much-anticipated return to the Commodores, Jake arrived 11 games into the season, stepped into the batters’ box of Cotuit’s Lowell Park on June 27 for the first time since his father’s death, and took one mighty swing, connecting with a thunderous crack.
Now Jake Rodriguez is not a home-run hitter.
In 251 career at bats with the Beavers, Rodriguez has hit only three home runs.
As for last summer, as an all-star member of Falmouth: zero home runs in 162 at bats.
But by the time this ball had landed, it had traveled well beyond the 399-foot marker in center field, and Jake was traveling around the bases with a mix of emotions.
“When I first came to bat, I just wanted to get my bat on the ball and get a hit,”Jake said. “I wasn’t really thinking, and my mind was clear.”
However, once he began that home run trot, thoughts of his father raced through his mind.
“It was probably one of the craziest moments of my life,” said Jake. “I know it was emotional for my mom and grandparents as well [who were listening in Chicago].” Jake’s mother and sister moved back to the city where he was born, 10 minutes from his beloved Wrigley Field, because his father had recently been called back to work at his previous work location. Despite his death, the family completed the move with Jake’s help and support.
Commodores Coach Jeff Trundy was emotional as well about Jake’s first game back, which also included an RBI double, a stolen base, a successful pickoff to second and a run-saving tag at the plate.
“To have him start the season off in that manner [with] all that he’s gone through... it sent chills up and down my spine,” said Trundy. “I love Jake Rodriguez, and obviously he’s a very, very good player, but he’s even a better person. He’s just a kid that you want to be around every single day.”
And every single day this summer, Jake plans to arrive to the ballpark to work with resilience, gaining confidence as a hitter, knowing that his dad is watching him in each and every at bat.
But back to that un-Jake-like monstrous home run in Cotuit: Where did that sudden surge of power come from?
Just ask Jake; he’ll tell you he wasn’t swinging that bat alone. He’ll say that his dad, Tony, had his hands wrapped around the wooden handle as well, right on top of his.
And for the Commodores’ sake, they hope Tony is swinging that bat with Jake all season long.
Taylor Snow is an intern with the Falmouth Commodores and the web managing editor for the University of Massachusetts Amherst Daily Collegian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Taylor_C_Snow.
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