As Plattsburgh State baseball’s senior pitcher Mike Vargues jogs around the bases after hitting a home run off sophomore Luis Pepen Matos during a scrimmage April 8, junior catcher Alex Rodriguez stands up from behind the plate and gives Pepen Matos advice in Spanish.
“Being in the North Country, you don’t get too many people that speak Spanish,” assistant coach Brian Burns said.
Rodriguez was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico. There, he grew up in the barrios — a word meaning neighborhood or ward. However, the word has another meaning in Latin American countries: the slums.
“As a kid living in Puerto Rico, living in a place like that, you see everything,” Rodriguez said.
To view more of our videos, visit our Multimedia page.It was hard for him to concentrate on baseball and school. When his family finally moved from Carolina to Rio Piedras, his concentration improved. He was able to focus on what he really wanted to do — play baseball.
Rodriguez found interest in baseball after his father, Miguel Rodriguez, taught him how to play.
“My dad is one of my biggest influences in my life,” Rodriguez said.
“I’m always listening to him. He played the game before me. Not even just the game, but actual life.”
With baseball on his mind, in hopes of becoming a professional player, Rodriguez’s next sight would be America.
In August 2012, people from Georgia came to Puerto Rico to do a tryout for a baseball academy.
Rodriguez was chosen, leaving behind a job and a chance to play baseball at a university in Puerto Rico.
When he went to Georgia, he found out the academy wanted to start a baseball program with the players from different countries.
“We had a really, really hard time over there,” Rodriguez said. “It was extremely bad. I don’t even find a word on how they were treating us.”
The players didn’t even have uniforms or a baseball field to practice on because the head of the academy was not expecting so many players to come.
They practiced on a football field. On the very same field, there was a football academy happening at the same time.
The football coaches and players were yelling at players during practice.
Many players quit, but Rodriguez did not. Something in his mind kept telling him that if he continued to work hard here, he would get into a good school or possibly drafted.
It wasn’t until a fight almost broke out between the football and baseball players that Rodriguez decided to leave.
“It’s one of those things that make me, not the player, but the person that I am right now,” Rodriguez said.
After leaving the academy, Rodriguez traveled to Maryland to attend Prince George Community College, where he played catcher for two years. He was even able to play in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III College World Series in spring 2014.
It was almost like a dream come true for him.
People were asking for autographs, taking photos of the team and he was playing in front of a packed stadium.
Once he graduated, Burns discovered Rodriguez while working at a baseball training center during the summer.
“He filmed his recruiting tape there and someone asked if we needed a catcher,” Burns said. “I watched his recruiting film, I called him a couple of times, spoke to him while he was in Puerto Rico. Luckily enough, I was able to get him here.”
The impact he has made on the team was felt immediately.
“He’s happy-go-lucky, he’s always smiling and rarely do you see him upset,” Burns said.
Rodriguez and his best friend and teammate, Fumiya Nakano, are similar people.
Both are from countries where baseball is popular, speak two different languages and have different cultures. They even have the same major.
They’re always speaking to each other in their native language, sometimes even through text.
“He’s always teaching me Japanese and he’s always trying to speak Spanish, too,” Rodriguez said.
He wants to keep learning more.
Rodriguez would love to learn another language. Every time he hears someone speak a new language, he tries to pick up what they are saying. He is still learning English, and when he first began learning it, he thought it was impossible.
“Sometimes I feel like I was going to quit because I didn’t understand the classes,” Rodriguez said.
He sometimes thought that if he said something wrong in English, people would make fun of him.
“Every time when I go out to a restaurant, if there’s something I don’t know how to say it, I don’t order it because I don’t want to sound like I don’t know,” Rodriguez said.
But Rodriguez never quits. He wants to continue learning English to have a job in the future.
His next goal is Portuguese.
“We’ll see,” Rodriguez said. “Who knows if I can speak Japanese in a couple of years?”
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