By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports activities MLB Author
Julio Rodríguez may in all probability improve you to firstclass.
Whereas these days the bubbling outfielder travels from metropolis to metropolis along with his teammates on the Seattle Mariners’ constitution, his 2021 season was a a lot completely different story. As a 20-year-old prospect, Rodríguez spent most of final 12 months both lighting up a baseball diamond or racking up business airline miles.
In an extremely uncommon prevalence for such a heralded prospect, Rodríguez spent three stints suiting up for the Dominican Nationwide Group in two Olympic qualifiers and the Tokyo Video games in Japan. That led to an outrageously hectic journey schedule that, over the course of the calendar 12 months, featured at the very least 22 flights, 100 hours within the air and greater than 40,000 miles traveled.
By means of all of it, only a 12 months faraway from teenagehood, Rodríguez dominated. In 74 video games for 2 Mariners associates, he posted a 1.001 OPS, sandwiched round a 10-for-24 efficiency with a homer in Tokyo to assist Group DR safe the bronze, the nation’s first medal in Olympic baseball competitors.
“Julio is a distinct sort of particular person,” José Gomez, the overall supervisor for the 2021 Olympic crew shared. “He’s only a baseball junkie. The character is simply … it’s superb, man.”
Sometimes, high prospects equivalent to Rodríguez aren’t given permission by their big-league golf equipment to play worldwide competitions throughout the minor-league season. The instability may be tough for younger gamers to regulate to, and the journey may be burdensome.
However Gómez and his entrance workplace made the request for Rodríguez anyway, including him to a protracted record of affiliated gamers they hoped can be permitted to affix Group DR for his or her first qualifier in Florida the primary week of June. As a result of 40-man MLB gamers had been prohibited from taking part in within the Olympics or the Olympic qualifiers, the Dominican roster turned out to be a mixture of outdated, former big-leaguers, equivalent to José Bautista, and profession journeymen taking part in overseas, equivalent to Jumbo Díaz.
“We thought it was extremely, extremely, extremely unlikely that Julio can be allowed to play,” Gomez remembered. He and his colleagues deliberate their complete roster for the qualifiers with the expectation that Rodríguez — together with different Dominican high prospects together with Wander Franco and Ronny Mauricio — wouldn’t be out there.
However Rodríguez was decided to take part.
“I’ve all the time wished to play for the Dominican crew,” he advised FOX Sports activities in Could. “I all the time wished to have the ability to characterize that crew, however first I wasn’t certain if the Mariners had been gonna permit me to try this.”
However as soon as Rodríguez made it clear to his agent, Ulises Cabrera, how a lot he wished permission from Seattle, the Mariners made the choice to permit him to take every week off to affix his countrymen in Florida.
“When [the Mariners] advised me that they had been going to assist me, I knew I needed to [be on that team,]” Rodríguez remembered.
And so off he went, touring about so far as you possibly can throughout the continental United States, from Everett, Washington, to Port St. Lucie, Florida. There, unsurprisingly, Rodríguez shined, serving to Group DR to a second-place end and a spot within the subsequent qualifier.
At that time, Gómez and crew skipper Hector Borg didn’t anticipate to have Seattle’s permission for the subsequent spherical or the Tokyo roster, in the event that they had been to qualify. However in Florida, Rodríguez pressured everybody’s hand.
“I keep in mind he got here as much as me after the final sport,” Borg stated. “And was like, ‘Borgy, I’m gonna be on this crew, I’m gonna come to the Olympics, and we’re gonna win a medal.’”
Within the postgame information convention that day, Rodríguez proclaimed that he can be becoming a member of the crew within the subsequent spherical of video games.
“We didn’t have permission from the Mariners but,” Gomez stated. “However as soon as Julio simply kinda stated it, I feel they realized how vital it was to him and let him be a part of.”
So Rodríguez, after returning cross-country to Everett, then zipped all the way down to Puebla, Mexico, for the ultimate qualifier. Group DR received the occasion, incomes a spot in Tokyo. However Rodríguez had little time to have a good time as, whereas he was in Mexico, the Mariners promoted him from Excessive-A Everett to their Double-A affiliate in Arkansas.
He spent the subsequent few weeks in Arkansas — and made a rapid journey to Denver for the 2021 Futures Recreation — earlier than becoming a member of Group DR in Tampa for just a few days of observe forward of their journey to Tokyo.
“He was the final participant to reach as a result of the Mariners didn’t need him to lose too many at-bats,” Gómez remembered. “I picked him up on the airport myself. He landed and wished to go straight to this Dominican restaurant in Tampa, however proper after that, we needed to get him all these COVID checks so he may go protocol in Japan.”
In Tokyo, going through pitchers a decade older than him, Rodríguez flourished because the Dominican crew knocked off Korea within the bronze-medal sport to etch itself in nationwide sports activities historical past. For a rustic with such an enormous and wealthy baseball historical past, the Dominican Republic will keep in mind the summer time of 2021 for a protracted, very long time.
Rodríguez’s journey again to the U.S. wasn’t so pleasant. After the Olympic crew spent one last night time collectively in Los Angeles, he boarded a aircraft to rejoin the Mariners’ Double-A affiliate in Arkansas. However when he landed and pulled out his cellphone, he seen that one thing was flawed.
“I used to be like ‘OK, let me get an Uber,’” he recounted, that trademark grin stretched throughout his face. “However once I put the handle in, it stated virtually two hours. That’s once I realized I am in Northwest Arkansas, the place the Royals crew is, and I used to be presupposed to be in Little Rock.”
“Yeah, that was my fault,” Gómez admitted, laughing.
Rodríguez finally discovered his method to the correct metropolis in Arkansas, took a single time without work after which promptly went 2-for-4 in his first sport again. The present goes on.
“I by no means noticed him look drained your entire summer time,” Borg stated. “He has that youthful power.”
The whole expertise speaks volumes to each Rodríguez’s distinctive character and the belief the Mariners have of their younger famous person. Most groups would’ve performed it protected, forbidding the way forward for their franchise from risking damage in video games past their purview, however the Mariners let Julio be Julio.
And now, they’re reaping the rewards.
“Perhaps I’m biased,” Borg stated. “However I feel his time final summer time helped him modify to the massive leagues faster. He was all the time going to be a star, however taking part in these vital video games acquired him used to the second.”
“Clearly, within the minors you play laborious every single day, however every time you will have that treasure proper forward of you … that’s simply completely different, man,” he stated. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime factor for me. I do not suppose I am going to be capable to play within the Olympics anymore.
“However with the ability to have all that stress, having to carry out, it doesn’t matter what — that’s why [the Mariners] allowed me to go and put myself on that stage.”
Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ, is a baseball author for FOX Sports activities. He’s an Orioles fan dwelling in New York Metropolis, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s virtually definitely driving his bike. Comply with him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.
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