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Rodriguez's roller-coaster ride to Majors

Rays utility man was called up to big leagues four times in 2008

Sean Rodriguez's first trip to the Major Leagues was something like a roller-coaster ride, and even when he was riding it he knew he wasn't ready for The Show.

Rodriguez, among the Rays' expanding collection of utility men -- a necessity with all the injuries now and earlier to front-line position players -- was the Angels' third-round Draft pick in 2003.

In 2008, he made his first trip to the Angels' active roster ... and his second, third and fourth, going from Triple-A Salt Lake and back again. In all, Rodriguez played 66 games in the Pacific Coast League and 59 in the American League that year.

"Those four callups in '08, it was frustrating coming up and going back down. The first time, maybe not so much because it was my first time in the big leagues. I was just happy to contribute somehow.

"You're just excited, and then it's, 'Oh, I've got to go down. Maybe I'll be up again soon.' You don't try and get yourself down over it."

His father Johnny Rodriguez is manager of the Cardinals' Class-A Florida State League affiliate, and before that was a Minor League manager, coach and scout. He drove Sean hard, working him to exhaustion when his son was just 4 years old. And Sean said he never resented any of it.

"I always took it as 'Obviously, he's pushing me toward something.' He says it wasn't hard to ask me to go to the field. It wasn't hard for him to get me to want to go out and practice. He told me, 'This is what you want. You can't do what everybody else does because you've do to be above and beyond what they do.'"

Johnny said he watched his son's early stints with the Angels and knew Sean didn't belong there just yet.

"The first three callups my dad said I wasn't ready, and I can definitely agree with that," Sean said. "I was just trying to find myself, trying to find consistency and keep it."

It wasn't until Aug. 1, 2009, with the Angels visiting the Twins and Rodriguez in the lineup, that everything clicked for him, that he felt the game slowing down, felt comfortable.

"It was almost a sense of knowing that you belong, the feeling that 'I'm going to be here; it's just a matter of how much I can contribute,'" Rodriguez said.

He didn't have much of a chance to get comfortable. A few days later he was sent back to Salt Lake yet again.

On Sept. 1, he was the player to be named later when the Angels completed a trade with the Rays that sent four players to Tampa Bay in exchange for pitcher Scott Kazmir. Rodriguez spent the final few games of 2009 with Triple-A Durham.

Rays manager Joe Maddon was familiar with Rodriguez from his time as an Angels coach.

"He knew what type of player I was, and I was the type of player he wanted here with the Rays," Rodriguez said.

He made the Opening Day roster in 2010 and started on the path to becoming another Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay's super-utility man. By the end of 2010, Rodriguez had played all three outfield positions plus first base, shortstop and third base, and had batted everywhere in the lineup -- from leadoff to ninth. Last season he added second base to his resume.

"I'd love to be an everyday guy at one position, but ultimately I want to win," he said. "If me moving around is going to help the team win, I'm going to do it. I don't mind it at all."

Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.