J-Rod turns focus to Opening Day after emotional Classic

March 19th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- returned to the Mariners from the World Baseball Classic sooner than he would’ve liked, but now that he’s back, the reigning AL Rookie of the Year has shifted his focus solely to Opening Day. 

“It felt like our bodies were in Spring Training, but our minds were just like racing,” Rodríguez said. “But it was fun. It was fun just being there and getting in the spirits with all the guys and getting to talk to all of them and pick up some stuff from them. It was pretty good.”

Rodríguez went 5-for-18 with a double and three RBIs over four games for Team Dominican Republic, which failed to make it out of Pool D play after losing a winner-take-all game against Puerto Rico on Wednesday. It was a disappointing finish, given that Team D.R. was arguably the favorite to win it all, but there were a few huge moments for the 22-year-old -- none bigger than his diving catch in the left-center-field gap in that elimination game.

“I was definitely hyped after that one,” Rodríguez said. “I definitely made a little bit of a mistake before that, and being able to basically get myself back together and be there for the team, even though we didn't get the results that we wanted.”

The mistake he referenced was on a one-hop line drive from Francisco Lindor that sailed past Rodríguez’s left side, reached the center-field wall and turned into an inside-the-park homer. It was a frustrating moment, but one emblematic of Rodríguez’s ability to quickly flush the negatives, much like he did early in his rookie year.

Beyond the blunder, the Classic represented 10 long days in Miami that spanned feelings of humility to rewarding to overwhelming -- all elevated with the pride of playing for his homeland alongside superstars like Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Rafael Devers and new teammate Teoscar Hernández. 

Rodríguez played in the postseason and All-Star Game as a rookie in 2022. How did the Classic compare?

“I just feel like it's a different fanbase,” Rodríguez said. “It's like people that grew up in the Dominican Republic and that's what they know. And it's just different, like it'll never be the same. ... Every time you see a Dominican team taking the field, you're going to see those flags. I just felt like they're going to celebrate us every time that we get on the field.”

Mariners manager Scott Servais highlighted that Rodríguez also may have learned the benefit of “structure,” specifically in maintaining a routine that became so detailed, yet seamless during his first full season.

“You take players from all different organizations and whatever, you kind of throw them all together, and you’re not quite used to that,” Servais said. “Sometimes, your routine, your program, gets a little bit out of whack and it's just not as comfortable. That's what the structure does. It creates a confidence level and a comfort level like, ‘OK, I'm ready to go right now.’ So he's happy to be back.”

Saturday marked Rodríguez’s seventh Cactus League game. With the regular season looming and after the emotional highs and lows of the Classic, he’d like to get as many reps before the March 30 opener at T-Mobile Park against the Guardians. Because as the lights get brighter in his sophomore season, Rodríguez intends to be deliberate about his top priorities: baseball, performance and competitiveness.

“I feel like I'm back on my track and kind of with all the flow of things here,” Rodríguez said. “The timing, I’ve definitely got to get some more at-bats and get it going for the season.”