Former big leaguers Rodriguez and Oliver spend time with Pelicans

ryoung@thesunnews.comJune 21, 2014 

In a few years, Ivan Rodriguez should be on his way to Cooperstown, N.Y., taking his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of the greatest catchers to ever play the game.

In the meantime, he spends part of his time on the other end of the professional baseball spectrum, as he did earlier this week at Field at Pelicans Ballpark while paying a visit to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

After 21 seasons, 2,844 career hits, 13 Gold Glove Awards and 14 All-Star Game selections among other accolades, Rodriguez has lent his time the last two years as a special assistant to the GM for the Texas Rangers. The 1999 American League MVP spent 13 of his big league seasons with the Rangers and after spending a year away from baseball, he has rejoined the organization while staying connected to the game.

That involves traveling around to the Rangers’ various minor league affiliates to work with the teenagers and young 20-somethings just getting started in their own careers.

“It’s important,” Rodriguez said Friday night, chatting outside the cramped coaches locker room he shared during his two days with the team. “Myself and Darren Oliver, we played the game for a long time, we come here, talk to them, work with them and just try to pass it to the kids.”

Oliver, who spent 10 of his 20-plus Major League seasons pitching for the Rangers, was in town to work with the Pelicans’ pitchers.

In his first season working with prospects as a special assistant to the GM, he said he’s had to remind himself what it was like just starting out in the lower rungs of the minor leagues.

“I don’t even know what I was thinking when I was in [Class] A ball. I wish there was someone to help me do it, but I kind of learned on the fly when I was in A ball,” he said. “So it’s good to kind of give back and tell them they’re so close but yet so far. It’s fun to watch them, and hopefully I’ll see some of these guys down the road in the big leagues and I get a chance to maybe help them out a little bit along the way.”

That’s perhaps the biggest part of the job – just being available to the players as another resource of knowledge and insight. Maybe there’s a question they can answer, or maybe they’ll notice something from the perspective gained through two decades in the big leagues.

David Lyon, one of the Pelicans’ three catchers, caught the team’s game Thursday night and talked with Rodriguez between innings about whatever caught the veteran backstop’s eye.

“There were a couple times we threw some pitches when I caught the other day, I came back in the dugout and he said, ‘This would be a better scenario to do that in.’ Just things like that, just little pointers,” Lyon said. “He doesn’t want to come in here and change everything you do.”

Said Rodriguez: “I come early and I watch them in BP and practice and basically it’s more talking than probably working with them because they have a game. So basically what I’m doing is keep [them] focused and what I see that I think that I can help I’ll talk to [them about].”

Talking outside the clubhouse Saturday evening, Oliver said the Myrtle Beach pitchers hadn’t peppered him with many questions yet, but this being his first visit to the team he expects it’ll take a little time to build some familiarity with the guys.

In the meantime, he too is looking for anything he might be able to point out to them – something he might see differently as a veteran of 766 Major League games.

“A lot of times, [I] may see some stuff that they don’t really know yet. I’ve worked with [some] mechanical stuff, but more the mental approach,” Oliver said. “… I try to make myself accessible to everybody and try to fit in.”

Oliver is in his first year working in this role after pitching his final game as a 42-year-old last season. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels had suggested the position to him a year earlier before Oliver opted to play one more season with the Toronto Blue Jays, and when the offer was made again, he accepted.

It’s a way to stay connected to the game and to gain some experience if he decides to pursue a full-time coaching position once his kids graduate.

“I always knew I wanted to do this and kind of stay in the game,” Oliver said.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, had already moved on by Saturday as Oliver and the players waited out the rain to see if the team would get its game in. Although Rodriguez was in town for only two games, Pelicans manager Joe Mikulik said it’s always a valuable experience for his guys when a player of that stature stops by.

“He’s been great,” Mikulik said. “He comes in and helps the kids, he’s in the dugout with us, talking to guys and he’s here to help the kids, give them some advice. It’s been fun to have him here.”

After all, it’s not everyday the young players get to look across the dugout and see a likely future Hall of Famer in their company.

“When he talks, you’re going to listen. I mean, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, possibly the best catcher ever to play the game,” Lyon said. “It’s kind of amazing that he comes in and helps us, kind of eye opening where you grew up watching him play and then he’s actually here next to you talking. It’s a pretty cool thing.”

Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318 or on Twitter @RyanYoungTSN.

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