Sunday July 30th was a magical day in Cooperstown, New York, especially for the island of Puerto Rico. In fact, it was a proud day for Latino baseball players in general, from the pro ranks to Little League.
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, the legendary catcher and 14-time All-Star, was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Pudge went in as a Texas Ranger, the organization that signed him and continued to represent for 15 seasons. It’s ironic that Rodriguez became the only catcher besides Johnny Bench to be elected on the very first HOF ballot. Bench was Ivan’s childhood idol and he loved the Big Red Machine.
“Growing up in Puerto Rico, there was no greater joy than watching the (televised) Game of the Week,” noted Pudge. “My favorite team was the Cincinnati Reds because their catcher was my hero, the great Johnny Bench. And now I’m standing here with him.”
Ivan’s 30 minute induction speech in both English and Spanish dazzled a crowd of over 27,000 in Cooperstown, many who enthusiastically waved the Puerto Rico flag. The oration included bits of light humor, emotion and words of wisdom. Here are some of the highlights.
On catching the flame-throwing Nolan Ryan early on when Pudge had little command of English.
“Kid, just put your fingers down,” suggested Ryan. “I have a fast ball, curve ball and change-up. Put your fingers down and I’ll throw you the ball.”
On friend Ken Griffey Jr. and Ivan’s then two year old son.
“Griffey picked up my boy and put him on his arm,” recalls Rodriguez. “My son threw some water on him…well, he peed on his uniform. So I want to apologize to Junior. I guess my son was so excited to meet such a great player.”
Rodriguez began his speech by thanking the Lord Jesus Christ, and had to pause several times to hold back tears when directly addressing his family and close friends in Spanish. He was also obviously moved and filled with patriotism in accepting baseball’s highest honor.
“To be a Hall of Famer from Puerto Rico means so much to me,” Pudge remarked. “We are a small island of only three million people, so it tells you how good and respected we are in baseball.
“Seeing all this support today makes me want to continue to do everything I can to be the best for Puerto Rico.”
Rodriguez also had a strong and encouraging message for today’s youth heavily involved in baseball.
“Be happy and play with passion,” he advised. “Treat our game with respect and above all, love this great game of ours.
“Dream big, and I know that those dreams can sometimes come true,” Pudge continued. “I know because here I am on this stage in this baseball heaven called Cooperstown.”
Then in typical sincerity, Rodriguez embraced all his fans in attendance.
“Don’t ever feel intimidated to ask me for an autograph or picture. It’s my honor,” he admitted. “Tell me your favorite Pudge story, because chances are it’s going to put a smile on my face.
“Ever since childhood, baseball has been my life. I was able to play at the highest level for 21 years, and I’m pretty happy about it.”
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is only the fourth Puerto Rican player to ever be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, joining Roberto Alomar, Orlando Cepeda and the great Roberto Clemente. He won’t be the last. Another catcher, Yadier Molina, will certainly be part of the fraternity five years after he packs away his gear. Carlos Beltran also has a shot.
But for now, Pudge is king of the hill and beaming with pride.