By: Mike Ashmore
(Bridgewater, N.J., May 2, 2018) - Speaking to MyCentralJersey.com in his first public comments since signing with the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks, it was clear that Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez wasn’t surprised that he eventually had to turn to independent baseball.
“The game of baseball has changed,” the former New York Mets closer said. “Now, everything is more analytics than anything else. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Baseball has been changing the last two or three years and teams are getting younger, ballclubs want to save more money as far as developing young kids instead of paying veterans. At the end of the day, I don’t control any of that, the only thing I can control is going out there and competing. The rest will take care of itself.”
“K-Rod” and his 437 saves at the MLB level have him behind only Mariano Rivera (652), Trevor Hoffman (601) and Lee Smith (478) on the all-time list, a number he racked up over 16 seasons with the Mets, Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, Milwaukee Brewers, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers.
The six-time big league All-Star led the American League in saves on three separate occasions, and won a World Series during his 2002 rookie season with the Angels, where he was the setup man to Troy Percival on the team that made the “rally monkey” famous.
Sixteen years later, and after the Philadelphia Phillies released him after eight appearances in spring training, the 36-year-old, who says he knew “nothing at all” about independent baseball, is taking the plunge starting with the Ducks series this week against the Somerset Patriots at TD Bank Ballpark.
“I’m a total stranger to it. This is only my first day, but I’ll get to know more information and see how it is,” he said. “When I played with the Mets, I lived on Long Island. I liked that everything is here. Everything is a few hours away at the most. I had offers in Japan, Mexico, Korea and all that, but I didn’t want to go that far yet. I wanted to stay here close to my family, and let’s see what’s going to happen.”
The Ducks have long been a landing spot for some of the biggest names in baseball as they look to find another opportunity in affiliated baseball, including well-known relievers like John Rocker and more recently, Eric Gagne.
“We’re going to treat him like we’re going to treat anybody else,” said Ducks manager Kevin Baez, now in his eighth season at the helm. “He understands, he’s been great so far. He’s one of our players, and we’re going to treat him the same as we treat anyone else; with respect and professionalism. He’s been a closer his whole career, and obviously he’s one of the all-time top closers in Major League Baseball, so he’s going to come here and when he’s ready to go, he’s going to close.”
How well that will go remains to be seen. “K-Rod,” who many fans in the area will remember as the Mets closer from the start of the 2009 season to late in 2011, is coming off the first truly poor season of his career; he went 2-5 with seven saves and a 7.82 ERA in 28 appearances before getting released midway through the year.
“Once I get going, and get the feel back, it’ll be good – it’s been four or five weeks without doing anything as far as (fastballs)-wise – the only thing I can tell you is that I’m healthy now,” he said.
“Last year, I don’t like to make excuses, but I wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t fooling anybody at the same time, so basically the wheels came off a bit. I have accomplished a lot in my career, and I love to play this game. I wanted an opportunity to play whether it was here or somewhere else, but I’m going to stop whenever I want to, not when others think that I’m done.”
Fans in Bridgewater on Tuesday night were eager to meet Rodriguez, bringing baseballs and cards for him to sign, and he was just as happy to get a chance to prove to them that he’s still got a lot left in the tank.
“One thing I can tell them, every time I go out there, I’m going to give it everything I’ve got,” he said. “I can guarantee I’m going to try to put on a good show for them, and hopefully they enjoy it. I’m going to try as hard as I can to get back.”