J-Rod displaying leadership beyond his years

September 13th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer's Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE -- We’ve all seen the elite five tools that possesses over this breakout season. But one both intangible and perhaps unexpected surfaced during Sunday’s epic walk-off win over the Braves:


The telecast caught Rodríguez smiling when running in from center field in the middle of the ninth inning, just after Paul Sewald gave up a go-ahead homer and just before Rodríguez tied the game with his own blast, an expression of supreme confidence that a comeback by his doing was looming.

But what went unseen on cameras was the 21-year-old approaching a disheartened Sewald -- 11 years his elder, head firmly in hands, looking at the cracked sunflower seeds on the ground while sitting on the bench -- and declared to him that Seattle would storm back and win.

“When you have your head down, it’s hard to see what’s going on,” Sewald said. “It was pretty deflating that we had this big lead and every game matters for us; to feel like you blew it, it was tough.” 

After Rodríguez reassured the beleaguered reliever, he rallied the dugout and gave the same message, but louder.

“Even whenever someone is down, we all kind of have that brotherhood that, ‘If you don’t do it, I’m going to help you out,’” Rodríguez said. “’I’m going to pick you up.’ It’s pretty cool what we have on this team right now.”

Then came the actual at-bat and executing on his proclamations. 

“At that moment, I just felt like I needed to deliver for the team,” Rodríguez said. “I needed to get something going. It doesn’t matter what it is. I feel like I had to put the work in that at-bat.” 

That sounds easier said than done. How was he able to harness the emotions given the weight of the game’s stakes?

“You trust yourself,” Rodríguez said. “I feel like that's why I'm able to manage my emotions, because I know what I’ve got. I know that I’ve put the work in, all the things that I’ve been through. That’s why I feel like I just let everything happen on the field.”

Leadership is a complicated attribute, especially in baseball. It often dictates that a player has extended experience, which Rodríguez doesn’t possess, having only been in the Majors for five months. And if not, it certainly requires tangible production on the field, and he’s already shown that credibility in this AL Rookie of the Year Award-worthy season. Perhaps just as vital -- and a reason why some of the very best players fall shy from leading -- is that it requires personality.

Rodríguez is exhibiting it all at an incredibly ripe age.

“The 21-year-old thing is crazy,” Sewald said. “It's just crazy to be that mature like that and that much of a leader already. People just gravitate towards him. That’s the kind of person he is. I’m glad he’s on our team.” 

Leadership is also about environment. The Mariners have created an atmosphere that allows Rodríguez’s personality to flourish. Dollars aside, it’s a huge reason why he signed the megadeal and intends to spend his entire career here. 

“Man, I’m just happy that they let me be who I am,” Rodríguez said. “They know that at the end of the day, I’m playing for them. I know they’re playing for each other here. We’re all playing for each other, and that’s a good thing to have.” 

And that moment in which the rookie reassured Sewald might be the first of many.

“That game is the ultimate definition of ‘team,’” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “When somebody struggles, other guys have got to pick them up, and that's what we saw.”