El Paso's Rodriguez a model of success, inspiration
As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Lunes de Legacy, presented by Nationwide, shines a spotlight on Hispanic, Latino, Latina and Latinx stories throughout MiLB of those who have forged an impressive path and left a legacy in their wake. These individuals have inspired a new generation, currently writing their own
As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, Lunes de Legacy, presented by Nationwide, shines a spotlight on Hispanic, Latino, Latina and Latinx stories throughout MiLB of those who have forged an impressive path and left a legacy in their wake. These individuals have inspired a new generation, currently writing their own legacy.
There is perhaps no sport in the United States more culturally diverse than baseball. With hundreds of players representing over two dozen countries in the Major and Minor Leagues, the game has evolved into a showcase of some of the world’s top athletic talent.
Behind every step that’s made big league baseball a truly international game are trailblazers who’ve pushed for their own opportunities while opening the door for others to come behind them. Edwin Rodriguez, born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1960, has spent the bulk of his life elevating his native island’s profile in the sport while carving out a historic career for himself.
Following the end of his playing days in the late 1980s, Rodriguez became a scout for the Minnesota Twins. Since moving into his first field staff role as a hitting coach for the Rays' Gulf Coast League squad in 1997, he's served in a variety of coaching positions at every level of the Minors, as well as in the Majors. Most notably, he became the first Puerto Rico-born manager in Major League history when he was the Marlins' skipper from the middle of the 2010 season to the middle of the next year.
Rodriguez cherished setting an MLB precedent, but what he’s appreciated the most over his career is the opportunity to shape and develop the future of the game through his work in the Minors.
"That was my [calling],” Rodriguez said. “I really liked that. I have a degree, I have a degree in accounting … but I started as a professional in 1980, and I've been doing that for 41 years, and the best part of all of those years is working in the Minor Leagues, developing players. So I really, really enjoy that."
He got his first managerial gig in 1999 with Tampa Bay’s Class A Short Season affiliate at Hudson Valley and made an immediate impact by helming the Renegades to their first New York-Penn League title. He spent the next three seasons as the skipper of Rookie Advanced Princeton before stepping aside for the 2003 season to take care of his children while his wife pursued her master’s degree.
In 2004, then-Marlins vice president of player personnel Dan Jennings asked Rodriguez to join the organization as hitting coach for Double-A Carolina (now Pensacola). After managing the GCL Marlins from 2005-06, he jumped to Class A Greensboro for two seasons, and to Triple-A New Orleans in 2009. Halfway through the 2010 campaign, Florida fired manager Fredi Gonzalez and called Rodriguez up to The Show to take his place on an interim basis.
Just a few days after Rodriguez took over the Marlins, the team was scheduled to play a three-game series against the Mets in San Juan, Puerto Rico, minutes from Rodriguez's offseason home. On the flight to Puerto Rico, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria approached Rodriguez.
“He touched my shoulder. I turned back and he said, 'Hey, I didn't know you were the first Puerto Rican manager in the big leagues,'” Rodriguez recounted. “And I said, 'Yeah, I mean, I'm still an interim, you know, but yes,' that I would've been the first Puerto Rican manager. So he said, 'OK, that's nice to know.'”
Two days later, Loria walked into Rodriguez’s office and delivered the news that the "interim" tag was gone and the Marlins were hiring him as the club’s full-time leader. Both he and his players were thrilled, but the moment felt especially special to Rodriguez given the fact that it came in his homeland -- and in a particularly symbolic place.
“That was amazing, that was amazing news,” he said. “Being in Puerto Rico, and we were playing at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. Hiram Bithorn Stadium is the main baseball stadium in Puerto Rico. Hiram Bithorn was the first Puerto Rican to play in the big leagues. So that was a great occasion, special occasion when the Marlins announced me as the manager for the rest of the season."
He resigned during the 2011 season, but the years following his pioneering achievement brought a number of fellow Puerto Ricans into managing positions. Alex Cora (Red Sox), Charlie Montoyo (Blue Jays) and Carlos Beltran (Mets) were all hired as big league skippers, with Cora becoming the first Puerto Rico-born manager to capture a World Series title -- with Boston in 2018.
After Rodriguez left the Marlins, he joined the Indians organization as manager of Class A Advanced Carolina for the 2012 season. The next year, he managed Double-A Akron, and in 2014 he became infield coordinator, allowing him to work across multiple levels. During the offseasons, he was working in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico, serving in a number of roles, including the director of operations in 2015.
Following three seasons with the Indians, Rodriguez was hired by the Padres organization to be the manager of Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore starting in 2017. He spent two years there before jumping up to Triple-A El Paso in 2019 and was slated to return before the 2020 Minor League season was canceled.
Throughout his time working in player development, Rodriguez has been guided by a desire to provide for a younger generation something that he wishes he'd had as he clawed his way through the Yankees, Padres and Twins systems, ultimately cracking the Majors with New York in 1982 and San Diego in 1983 and 1985.
“I did play in the big leagues, but I could have done better if I would've had better coaches," he said. "I just want to make sure that what I didn't have back then -- that was 1980-something -- they can get that information and that mental toughness and that awareness on where they're at and how everything works in the Minor Leagues, how everything works in the baseball industry. So that was my mission, trying to relay that information to the players."
That commitment to illuminating pathways to success extends to his work back home, too. Rodriguez served as the skipper for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic during the last two tournaments (2013, 2017). For his two turns at the helm, Puerto Rico has two silver medals -- its only hardware in the WBC's four-tournament history. Managing Team Puerto Rico in a showcase of the world's best baseball players was an accomplishment he treasures as much as any.
"It was an honor, because that could have been anybody,” Rodriguez said. “Because, I mean, there's so much talent here in Puerto Rico to manage that team. But then in 2012, when they announced, the president of the baseball federation in Puerto Rico, they called me and he announced that to the press. That was ... as great as being named the manager of the Marlins. ... I think it's my best professional experience, managing the team from Puerto Rico.”
Rodriguez will never forget the excitement of Puerto Rican fans when the team -- led by the likes of Yadier Molina and Francisco Lindor -- made its exhilarating run to the championship round.
“The best experience was, and the best feeling is, uniting the whole country,” he said. “It was amazing. More than winning, more than playing and managing the WBC team. We've seen the whole country for two weeks together. And people that -- someone that, a lot of them, they didn't know anything about baseball. Everything stopped in Puerto Rico, everything stopped. Literally, everything stopped just to watch those games. So that means more than the fact that I was managing that team."
By the time he was part of that electrifying force, though, Rodriguez had already made less celebrated but arguably as meaningful contributions to Puerto Rico's prominence in baseball, and vice versa. While with the Indians organization, he spent three years as the executive director of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School in Gurabo. In that position, he oversaw the instruction of some of the country’s best young prospects and played a key role in their development -- both as baseball players and as young men ready to take on the world.
Working with teenagers was a new challenge for Rodriguez, but he relished the opportunity.
"I had the chance that I never had before to work with the kids, with you know, 14-, 15-year-olds,” he said. “They're the best talent in Puerto Rico. They were [all] pretty much in that academy. I never had the chance to work with the amateur prospects [before]. ... That was part of a great experience for me working in that academy."
Rodriguez anticipates returning to El Paso in 2021, and he likely still has several seasons ahead of him on the bench. A return to the Majors is probably not impossible, although he’s clearly focused on developing players in the Minors.
But no matter what comes next, he’s eternally grateful for the career he’s had. He’s led his homeland on the world’s biggest stage, played a key role in developing several of the game’s brightest stars and shaped the lives of young players on and off the field.
“I feel blessed,” he said. “Because all of the players -- not only the ones that everybody got to know. There's superstars like Yadi Molina, the Lindors, but all those guys that went up to college to finish their degrees, to make a career, not only in baseball but a professional career. I've been blessed to be able to have that opportunity and to be able -- and most important, to look at my family and the family being proud of what I did in my career. That's the number one on my list, that my daughter, my son, my brother, the whole family feels proud, and definitely my parents."
Jordan Wolf is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter: @byjordanwolf.