by Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Julius Rodriguez Perhaps you could be upgraded to First Class.
While at present the fizzy team player travels from city to city with his teammates Seattle Mariners‘The charter, his season in 2021 was a much different story. As a 20-year-old prospect, Rodriguez has spent most of the past year either lighting a baseball diamond or collecting commercial airline miles.
In an extremely rare event for such a promising prospect, Rodriguez spent three qualifying spells for the Dominican side in two Olympic qualifying matches and the Tokyo Games in Japan. This led to an outrageously hectic travel schedule that, over the course of a calendar year, included no fewer than 22 flights, 100 hours in the air and more than 40,000 miles.
Through it all, just a year into adolescence, Rodriguez dominated. In 74 games for the two Mariners, he scored a 1.001 OPS, confined to a 10-for-24 performance with Homer in Tokyo to help the DR team take the bronze, the country’s first medal in an Olympic baseball competition.
“Julio is a different kind of person,” Jose Gomez, general manager of the 2021 Olympic team, shared. “He’s just a baseball junkie. Just the character… It’s amazing, man.”
Usually, top potential players like Rodríguez are not given permission by big league clubs to play international competitions during a minor league season. The instability can be difficult for young players to adapt to, and travel can be stressful.
But Gomez and his front office made a request for Rodriguez anyway, adding him to a long list of affiliate players who were hoping to be allowed to join the DR team in their first playoffs in Florida in the first week of June. Because 40 men MLB Players were barred from playing in the Olympics or Olympic qualifiers, and the Dominican roster turned out to be a mix of older former players, such as Jose Bautista, and professional players who play abroad, such as Jumbo Diaz.
“We thought it was extremely unlikely that Julio would be allowed to play,” Gomez recalls. He and his teammates planned their full roster in the playoffs with the expectation that Rodriguez – along with other top Dominican prospects including Franco’s walk And the Ronnie Morris – It will not be available.
But Rodriguez was determined to participate.
“I’ve always wanted to play for the Dominican national team,” he told FOX Sports in May. “I’ve always wanted to be able to represent this team, but first I wasn’t sure if the sailors would let me do that.”
But once Rodriguez made it clear to his agent, Ulysses Cabrera, how much he wanted Seattle’s permission, the Mariners made the decision to let him take a week off to rejoin his Florida compatriots.
“When [the Mariners] He told me they would support me, I knew I had to do it [be on that team,]Remember Rodriguez.
And so he went, traveling as far as he could within the continental United States, from Everett, Washington, to Port St. Lucy, Florida. There, unsurprisingly, Rodriguez shined, helping the DR team finish second and secure a place in the next playoff.
At that point, Gomez and captain Hector Borg didn’t expect Seattle’s permission for the next round or the Tokyo roster, if they would qualify. But in Florida, Rodriguez imposed everyone’s hand.
“I remember he came to me after the last game,” Borg said. And he was like, ‘Borgy, I’m going to be on this team, and I’m going to the Olympics, and we’re going to win a medal. “
At the post-match press conference that day, Rodriguez announced that he would be joining the squad for the next round of matches.
“We haven’t got permission from the sailors yet,” Gomez said. “But once Julio said it, I think they realized how important it was to him and let him join in.”
So, after Rodriguez returned to Everett, he moved to Puebla, Mexico, for the playoff final. The DR team won the event, and secured a spot in Tokyo. But Rodriguez didn’t have much time to celebrate, as the Mariners, while in Mexico, promoted him from High A Everett to Double A in Arkansas.
He spent the next few weeks in Arkansas—and made a quick trip to Denver for the 2021 Futures Game tournament—before joining the DR team in Tampa for a few days of training before their trip to Tokyo.
“He was the last player to arrive because the sailors didn’t want him to lose so many hits,” Gomez recalls. “I picked him up at the airport myself. He landed and wanted to go straight to this Dominican restaurant in Tampa, but right after that, we had to make him all those COVID tests so he could pass protocol in Japan.”
In Tokyo, facing bowlers a decade older than him, Rodriguez thrived when the Dominican side ousted Korea in a bronze medal match to shine in the history of the national sport. For a country with an extensive and rich history in baseball, the Dominican Republic will remember the summer of 2021 for a very long time.
Rodriguez’s trip to the United States was not very enjoyable. After the Olympic team spent one last night together in Los Angeles, he boarded a plane to rejoin Arkansas affiliate Double-A Mariners. But when he landed and pulled out his phone, he noticed that something was wrong.
“I was like, ‘Okay, let me get an Uber,’” he recounted, and a trademark smile spread across his face. “But when I put in the address, he said nearly two hours. That’s when I realized I was in Northwest Arkansas, where the Royals are, and I was supposed to be in Little Rock.”
“Yes, that was my fault,” Gomez admitted with a laugh.
Rodriguez eventually found his way to the right city in Arkansas, took one day off and then came back at a speedy 2-for-4 in his first game. Show continues.
“I’ve never seen him look so tired all summer,” Borg said. “He has that youthful energy.”
The entire experience speaks volumes for both Rodríguez’s unique personality and the confidence the Mariners have in their young star. Most teams would have played it safe, preventing the future of their franchise from risking injury in matches outside of their purview, but the Mariners let Julio be Julio.
And now, they are reaping the rewards.
“Maybe I’m biased,” Borg said. “But I think his time last summer helped him adapt to the big leagues faster. He was always a star, but playing those important games made him get used to the moment.”
He said, “You obviously play hard in the minors every day, but whenever you have that treasure right in front of you… it’s totally different, man.” “It was a once in a lifetime thing for me. I don’t think I’ll be able to play in the Olympics anymore.
“But being able to withstand all that pressure, having to perform, no matter what — that’s why [the Mariners] You let me go and put myself on that podium.”
Jake Mintz, the top half of @CespedesBBQ, He is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He is a fan of Orioles and lives in New York City, and as such, leads a secluded life in most October residents. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. Follow him on Twitter @Jake Mintz.
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