As the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of high school spring sports, local seniors were faced with an abrupt ending to their high school careers. A group of these students were also athletes at the Texas Rangers MLB Youth Academy at Mercy Street Sports Complex, presented by Toyota. This Rangers Academy Senior Spotlight series seeks to highlight those athletes who have worked on their craft at the Academy as they move into the next chapter in their lives.
Irving High School
Hannah Rodriguez’s high school career culminated in a graduation ceremony at Globe Life Field with her Irving High School class on Saturday, May 30.
For the Texas Rangers fan and long-time Texas Rangers Youth Academy at Mercy Street Sports Complex, presented by Toyota, participant, it was a bright spot in an abruptly pandemic shortened senior year.
“We got to go through the dugout and go on the field, walk across home plate, which was pretty cool to officially sign off high school, going across home plate,” Rodriguez said.
But graduation was only the beginning of the celebration for Rodriguez and her family Saturday, as the graduation party that followed featured the announcement of her next academic and softball destination: Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
“I didn’t want to just post it on social media and everyone find out that way,” Rodriguez said of the way she chose to share the news. “The closest people that I know would be going to my party, so I wanted to do it there and let everyone know in person.”
Fellow Academy participant and Irving High School graduate Melanie Henderson was also part of the festivities.
As the only two softball players to make the varsity team their freshman year at Irving, Henderson and Rodriguez have a history playing together. They brought that to the Academy almost as soon as the doors opened in 2017 and quickly started spreading the word.
“Since we both went to high school together, we would get more girls to come to the Academy and recruit more girls to come to the Academy, telling them how you can get better, all the stuff is free, it’s free practice, free coaching,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just nice to see over the years how more and more people are going and how it’s growing.”
Rodriguez has made an impact on the field during her time at the facility, playing on the teams representing the Rangers Academy in the Jennie Finch Classics as part of the 2018 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. and 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland.
She also made the 2018 and 2019 Rangers Youth Academy RBI All-Star teams.
Rangers Youth Academy Director Juan Leonel Garciga was her coach for all those experiences.
“Hannah and her parents called to tell me about her college visit and that after speaking to the softball coach, she would have an opportunity to play college softball,” Garciga recalled. "I immediately began celebrating in my living room. These are the moments that coaches and program directors live for. We are so fortunate to be a part of these young people’s lives and seeing them achieve their dreams.”
Rodriguez pointed to her time at the Academy and under Garciga’s coaching as a factor in being recruited to play at the college level.
“Melanie and I, we both didn’t do travel ball or select ball the last two summers,” Rodriguez said. “We were busy with the Academy and being dedicated to being there in the summer.”
That dedication has paid off for both athletes, as Henderson will play at Lamar State College while Rodriguez heads to San Antonio.
Texas A&M University-San Antonio is preparing to launch its intercollegiate athletics program in fall 2020 after being accepted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and Red River Athletics Conference (RRAC).
While Rodriguez is looking forward to playing in the new facilities, she’s also looking ahead to once again recruiting new players, in addition to being part of the inaugural team in the school’s history.
“We’re going to be the first people playing with that program, so we need to kick it off well so it will be on record,” Rodriguez said.
Looking ahead to her college career is helping to ease the pain of a COVID-19 shortened final high school season.
“I was completely taken by surprise when our season got canceled. With it being cut and taken away it just made me realize how much I sort of took playing the game for granted. Now I plan to practice and play games as if it’s my last, because you never know what could happen,” Rodriguez said. “I will take that life lesson with me to college.”
Right now, Rodriguez is spending five days a week working out to not only stay healthy, but also become a better player.
She’s that much closer to a next step she’s been working towards since the very first time she picked up a bat.
“I've played softball since I was 5 years old and my love for the game has grown stronger every year,” Rodriguez said. “Since I was little playing on select softball teams, the main end goal was that it was preparing me to play at the next collegiate level all while having fun and learning the game. Every game I've played before this time has been preparing me to play college ball and be successful.”
Although she didn’t get to finish her high school season, Rodriguez is looking forward to an eventual start to the summer RBI season at the Academy and especially grateful to have one last chance to play with the teammates who have become close friends over the last few years.
“I’m always going to be close to those people that I met through the Academy,” Rodriguez said. “I definitely gained a lot of new friends that I’m going to know a long time.”