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OPEN MIC: Pudge Rodriguez

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The move didn't seem to make much sense in the off-season, not while the Florida were in the midst of saying goodbye to established, expensive stars like and . Even was a Marlin for about 15 seconds, before they shipped him to the Atlanta . But in that flurry of selling, the actually made one huge buy, signing catcher Ivan ¿Pudge¿ Rodriguez, he of the 10 American League All-Star selections and the 1999 AL MVP Award, to a one-year, $10 million contract. What purpose did that serve? Plenty. Cut loose by the Texas after 12 years of service, when injuries to his back and knees forced him to miss 176 games over the last three seasons, Rodriguez is finally playing healthy again, calling the shots behind the plate as he gives the a veteran presence and star quality. The have lost a lot of ground in public opinion around Pro Player Stadium, their reputation damaged exponentially by the team's dismantling after the 1997 World Series. Having Rodriguez around, even if it is just for one season, sends a signal to South Florida's baseball faithful that there is hope on the horizon, that the are serious about contending again someday soon. FOXSports.com caught up with ¿Pudge¿ on Florida's recent road trip to discuss his transition to the National League, the All-Star game, his lavish new Miami Beach mansion and more ... What's the biggest difference between playing in the American League and the National League? Different stadiums, different backgrounds, different pitchers, basically. It's just a quicker league than the American League, in terms of how the time of the game goes. Do the runners treat you any differently here than they did in the AL? They've been doing some things. Sometimes, they'll run, sometimes they won't run. This league is faster, people will run more in the National League. But for me, we're doing a good job with our pitchers in holding the guys (on). The only difference I've really seen is that the game is faster. Has your personal life changed since you became a Marlin? Everything is fine, I'm healthy and I'm feeling great. This is a great team. We are playing good right now, we're at .500, and we need to just keep doing what we're doing. How good does it feel right now to be playing pain free? Everything is good. I mean, right now, my back is great, it feels fine, everything's fine. When you play with no pain, everything is fine. Does it affect you guys to go out there at home and see the small crowds in Miami? Of course, you know. You want to see a lot of people supporting you at home. This year, the attendance was better (than last year). We have, you know, 15 thousand, 16 thousand people in the stands. It's still not a lot of people, but it's better than last year. But of course, when you play with a lot of people in the stands, it makes you play your game harder. Your Miami Beach house is on a pretty exclusive street; you're neighbors with Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias. Do you ever see them roaming around the neighborhood? Oh, no. They're just like me. They don't go out of their houses. I always stay inside my house and I don't go anywhere. The only time I go out of the house is when I'm going to the park and then when I'm going back home. I don't blame you, with the Florida heat. Your wife, Maribel, completely redesigned your house when you moved in; you've got speedboats, yachts, a billiards room, even a bronze statue of yourself. For you, what's the best part of Pudge's palace? Everything. Everything is nice. I enjoy my house. Everywhere in the house is nice, it's a great home and I like it a lot. You're currently leading the fan balloting for the NL's starting catcher in the All-Star game. Do you think about the voting at all? It's nice. I just (need to) keep playing baseball hard and if they vote for me, then I'm going. I know that (my numbers) aren't the numbers that people are supposed to have (to go to the All-Star game), but when you play in a new league and you're playing for the first time in a new league, sometimes things are pretty tough. You know, I'm still positive and I hit the ball hard. I hit the ball hard pretty much every time. But you know, I've done a lot of things in this game, so that's why the fans like me a lot. What do you think about the new changes to the All-Star game, as far as it counting for home-field advantage in the postseason? It'll be nice. It'll be good. I think it'll make the game more important to the players, and I think it'll be a good game. Did you get a sense that players weren't taking it seriously in years past? I don't know. I take it seriously, because every time I go on a field I play my game hard. The four, five, six innings that the manager puts me there to play, I give it my best, and I think everyone is doing the same thing. Everybody has to play, and everybody has to get their opportunities to play, and sometimes you have to respect that. The All-Star game is a game where sometimes you have to take care of yourself (physically), because it's basically an exhibition game for the fans to come and see their superstars, but I think this year is going to be a little bit different. This past winter, you and your family had the opportunity to visit with President Bush at the White House. What was that experience like? It was great. I've known Mr. Bush — President Bush — for a lot of years, when he was part-owner of the . He was a great guy. We got to go there and he showed me pretty much the whole White House and all that. It was nice. Last question. Could you see yourself remaining with the past 2003? I don't know. I'm signed for one year here, and after the season, we'll see what happens. Bryan Hoch is a contributing writer to FOXSports.com. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.
Tagged: Rangers, Braves, Rockies, Marlins

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