The first thing you notice about Dereck Rodriguez is his flowing locks. They are Tim Lincecum-level iconic. The first thing you’ll probably HEAR about Dereck is that he’s Ivan (better known as “Pudge”) Rodriguez’s son. When you have a father who is in the Hall of Fame, I imagine that type of thing follows you around wherever you go.
Dereck got the call up to the big leagues on Sunday evening, presumably reporting to Coors Field to help an overworked Giants pitching staff. I visited Dereck the day before in Sacramento to chat with him about what he’s done in his first season with the Rivercats so far. In summary, he’s tossed 50.1 innings, limiting walks, and fanning batters with at least six strikeouts per outing in his last six appearances. Knowing that every interview he’s given probably revolves around his father’s legacy, I wanted to shift gears and get to know more about what makes him tick.
Dereck started as a pitcher in high school but was drafted as an outfielder in 2011 by the Twins. As he progressed in the minors, the Twins made the decision to convert him into a pitcher in 2014 and the transition seemed to make sense to Rodriguez.
“I was always able to throw the ball for a strike. I had good accuracy. It was a little tough for my arm, throwing as hard as I did without the mechanics, but it was pretty smooth.”
While it took Rodriguez a while to adjust to his new role, his father never interfered with with his progress despite being one of the best catchers in baseball history. Sure, he called his pops to check in once in awhile if he was struggling but the person who truly influenced him in baseball was his mother, Maribel Rivera.
“Ever since I was younger, she was the one to take me to all the tournaments when I was playing. She was the one who took me to the Cooperstown Dreams Park Tournament - she was the one there with me. My dad was there, he helped me out - but my mom was the one who traveled on the planes with me and went to the middle of nowhere to take me to these tournament and showcases.”
At the time of the interview, Dereck had not received the call up yet (ha! foreshadowing!) but when asked about how he would feel to get the call, his face lit up.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel when I get up there, if I get up there. I think the first thing is I’ll probably start crying. You know, I grew up around my dad and the big leagues and getting the chance to play in the big league stadiums for the first time will be awesome. All the sacrifices my mom and my parents made are going to pay off.”
In preparation for the big leagues, I imagined he would tell me all about his mechanics or the more technical aspects of throwing a baseball but he credits the change entirely to something more mental.
“It’s confidence, honestly. Just gaining the confidence and knowing I can compete with these guys. I came into this league thinking that these guys were better and we’re just Triple-A - one step short of the big leagues. And then I started thinking about it and talked to (Steve) Kline and he said ‘you wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think you had the talent to compete’ and that kind of kicked me a little bit.”
While the Giants have been riddled with injury and rehabbing in Sacramento, the silver lining of it all is rubbing elbows with guys with major league experience and who can pass on words of wisdom. Rodriguez immediately pointed to Hunter Pence, whose fate with the Giants is uncertain but his positivity and desire to help others is not.
“He’s an awesome person. I’ve known Hunter for a couple of years - he was my dad’s teammate in Houston in ‘09. When I introduced myself in spring training and he recognized me, he was like ‘man, time flies.’”
“It’s awesome to pick these guys’ brains and their thought process and what makes them so successful in the big leagues.”
Rodriguez, who had an unexpected debut on Tuesday night against the Rockies when Jeff Samardzija exited with a tight shoulder, crossed off a lot of firsts of his big league bucket list. He pitched 3 1⁄3 innings, issued his first walk, logged four strikeouts, and even contributed to the offense with a double off of Rockies’ pitcher Kyle Freeland.
As we will most likely see more of Dereck because of the revolving door of injuries, I asked him to share a little more of what he enjoys off the field so Giants fan could get to know him a little better. He mentioned hanging out with his big family and his new fiancée, walking around the mall, and watching movies (I should tell him to hit up Brandon Belt). In addition, he spoke with clear enthusiasm about another hobby:
“I love video games. I love video games. I love Fortnite. I’m a big Fortnite guy and I lose some sleep over it - I’m one of those guys.”
I think we are going to really enjoy Dereck Rodriguez, guys. And not just cause his dad is in Pudge Rodriguez (although, that’s pretty cool too).