Rodriguez closes career where it began

ARLINGTON, Texas — There’s no doubt in the mind of Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan that catcher Ivan Rodriguez is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The clock on that officially started Monday as Rodriguez retired after 21 seasons at a press conference at Rangers Ballpark.

“It was a thrill and an honor to play here for years and be part of a great organization since day one,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who did not take questions at the press conference, spoke for just over five minutes. He was surrounded at the podium by his family and former Texas teammates including Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McLemore, Jeff Frye and Benji Gil had seats for the event.

Rodriguez, 40, ends his career as a 14-time All Star, 13-time Gold Glove winner and the all-time leader at catcher in hits, runs, RBI, doubles and extra-base hits. Rodriguez, who played his first 12 seasons with Texas and returned to the team at the end of the 2009 season, was also just the sixth catcher in American League history to win the most valuable player honor. That award came in 2009 when Rodriguez hit 35 homers with 113 RBI in leading Texas to a third-consecutive trip to the playoffs.

Rodriguez also played for the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and Florida Marlins. He won his only World Series ring with the Marlins in 2003.

Rodriguez was honored in a pregame ceremony before Monday’s game against the Yankees, throwing out a unique first pitch. He went behind home plate and threw a strike to Young at second base.

Young was happy to have the opportunity to participate in the play.

“It was pretty special,” Young said. “It means a lot to me. I know he’s going to be around a lot and I love my time with Pudge. He kind of gave me a head’s up. The fans loved it.”

Ryan said the Rangers and Rodriguez have already talked about a future role with the team.

“We have talked to Pudge about continuing a relationship with us,” Ryan said. “I think there’s interest on both sides with him being involved in our organization. We’re excited about that. We think it would be good for our organization and he wants to stay involved in baseball so we’re looking forward to working something out on that.”

Ryan, who played with Rodriguez, believes a deal with him could be worked out in the near future. One thing that hasn’t been decided is when or if the team will retire his jersey number.

Rodriguez wanted to retire in Arlington, where he began his career at a 19-year-old in 1991. The Rangers signed him out of Puerto Rico when he was just 17 and he began his minor-league career as a 17-year-old.

Rodriguez ranks in the top five in for Texas in hits, doubles, triples, homers, RBI, runs scored, total bases, extra-base hits and games played.

Tom Grieve, who is the team’s television color commentator, was the general manager when the club signed Rodriguez.

“When I think of Pudge what I think about most, I think about the smile,” said Grieve. “I think about the passion that he had for the game. I think of pure joy that was evident every time he took the field and the way he played the game. He was a great player but those are the things I remember most about Pudge.”

Rodriguez, who spent the last two seasons with Washington and had options to play this year, got emotional during the press conference. His eyes began watering when Grieve spoke and his voice cracked as he thanked his parents at the end of the event.

“Today is a very hard day for me,” he said. “It’s been a great, great run. Twenty-one years have been beautiful.”