ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Sean Rodriguez’s voice sounded tired Friday afternoon. The fatigue was understood. Thursday was huge. That day, shortly after noon, he welcomed his fourth kid into this big, bright world, all 9 pounds and 21 1/4 inches of Zekiel Cruz Rodriguez. He was a proud father again.
"It went well," Rodriguez said of his wife Giselle. "She’s strong."
He spoke about pride. He spoke about emotion. He spoke about being blessed in a way that almost escapes words, because the feelings hold so much power.
Being a father thrills.
Being a father rewards.
Being a father is forever.
"It’s always something different," Rodriguez said. "It’s always something special. It’s something a lot of people I hope can experience."
Rodriguez is a major league baseball player, which makes him different than most fathers. He’s part of a 162-game grind as a utility player with the Tampa Bay Rays. He lives a public life. He was placed on the paternity list Thursday, which allows him to miss up to three days. But he was back in Tropicana Field’s home clubhouse less than 27 hours after Zekiel’s birth. The rest of the evening, he went on a tear by hitting 2 for 4 with a double, a home run and four RBI in an 8-1 victory over the Texas Rangers.
He wore a band on his left wrist that read "Baby Boy Rodriguez." He gave it a pat after his home run, a 388-foot drive to left field in the third inning off left-hander Joe Saunders. This was a special night.
"I would say definitely excited," Rodriguez said afterward. "I just had my fourth child. Some might say that’s a little crazy. But I see it as an adventure."
The paternity list has received a lot of attention this week. Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins missed games Wednesday and Friday for the birth of his second daughter.
Meanwhile, New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy missed the first two games of his season to fly from New York to Florida and watch his wife give birth to his 8-pound, 2-ounce son Noah on Monday. He returned Thursday. But talk-radio hosts in the Big Apple didn’t like that he was gone so long. Ugly things were said about hiring a nurse and performing C-sections and more.
"My wife and I discussed it," Murphy told reporters Thursday, "and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay for an extra day — that being Wednesday — due to the fact that she can’t travel for two weeks."
The situations differ, but Rodriguez defended Murphy, and rightfully so. Birth is a beautiful moment, but it’s also personal. Rodriguez said he received a text from Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations, that told him to take as much time away as needed.
Rodriguez discussed the issue with his wife, and taking all three days was an option. They decided returning Friday was the best move for him.
"She said, ‘I know you want to be out there. You go on ahead and can get back there tomorrow if you want. I’ve got things here,’ " Rodriguez said. "For me, it’s always been about — you hear it said all the time — a strong man has a stronger woman behind him. I definitely have that in my corner. She definitely helps out with a lot of tough decisions."
And about the criticism directed at Murphy?
"I think it was unnecessary," Rodriguez said. "I definitely think it was unnecessary. .. That’s his kid. That’s not something you can plan anyway. If somebody comes back in one day, great. Two, OK. Three, it doesn’t matter."
That was the common reaction around the Rays clubhouse Friday. The choice to return should be a family call. It shouldn’t be made to please fans. It shouldn’t be made to please teammates. It shouldn’t be made to please the manager or general manager, as long as no rules are broken.
Sure, baseball is a way of life, but life extends beyond the diamond. Rodriguez understands that. Murphy does too. Pity the person whose worldview is narrower than a plastic straw.
"Some people just don’t know the importance of life sometimes," said Rays first baseman James Loney, who missed two games last July for the birth of his son Jordan James, "and what it means to have a family."
"I think that’s why they have that paternity list for," said Rays outfielder David DeJesus, who missed two games in May 2010 with the Kansas City Royals for the birth of his son David Jr. "If he wants to come back early, he can. But he’s allotted three days. Maybe his wife needed his help for three days. We never know. That will never get posted. That’s the best way to go about it — on a case-by-case basis."
"The hard line some people are taking on this, I really don’t quite understand that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I really don’t. There was a time when people were so afraid to leave their jobs even for a day because they thought it was so important that they be there. I think those days are gone."
Those days should be gone at the ballpark. No two cases are the same, but Rodriguez and Murphy did what was best for them. No one is saying that they should neglect their lives as baseball players, but professional life is temporary, fatherhood permanent. This is an easy choice.
"As much as we love baseball and we enjoy doing it, we only get a short time to do it," Rodriguez said. "Your family is going to be there forever. So it’s hard to pick a short time over forever."