COOPERSTOWN -- Ivan Rodriguez is not alone in Cooperstown. His family is here to see him get inducted into the Hall of Fame today (11 a.m. CT on MLB Network and MLB.com), and so is an impressive group of Rangers players and executives -- past and present -- who were excited to share their memories of "Pudge."
Among them are Sandy Johnson, the Rangers' scouting director who originally signed Rodriguez in 1988, and Tom Grieve, who was the general manager at the time. Tom Schieffer was the club president when Rodriguez made his Major League debut June 20, 1991, against the Chicago White Sox.
Rudy Jaramillo was a roving hitting coach in the Minor Leagues when Rodriguez first joined the organization, and Bobby Jones was his manager in 1990 at Class A Port Charlotte. Darren Oliver was his teammate at Class A Gastonia in 1989, and Ruben Sierra was his teammate and mentor at the big league level.
Geno Petralli was the Rangers' starting catcher who needed knee surgery in 1991 That was the injury that brought Rodriguez to the big leagues.
Johnson: We were at a tryout camp in Puerto Rico. I was talking to somebody else in the dugout, and my scout [Doug Gassaway], who was with me, came in from center field, and said that little guy just threw 93 miles per hour to second base. So, we kind of shut down everything and concentrated on Pudge. We had him swing the bat and run the 60-yard dash. I had him throw for me and he threw just one [throw] and I said, "That's enough, let's get this done."
Jaramillo: I think we brought him to Spring Training for a week, and it was a sight to be seen. We put him in a uniform and he threw to second base, and I guarantee you the four fields stopped. He couldn't have been 5-foot-4 at the time, and the ball was about this high going through the bag. It was the most incredible thing you ever saw.
Oliver: He couldn't speak a lot of English, and I couldn't speak a lot of Spanish. We made it work though. We were so young. He was on the fast track. He always said he was the only one who could catch me. My ball moved around a lot. I didn't always know where it was going. He was the only one who caught me. Nobody else could catch me.
Jones: He was head and shoulders above everybody else. You knew he was going to be a good player. Hall of Famer? Who knows. When the [1990 Class A] season started we were playing the Cardinals out of St. [Petersburg], and they had guys who could run. He was gunning guys down, picking guys off first. It was awesome to watch. The other manager came to me and said, "Why are you catching him all the time. I'm not going to steal any more, you got Pudge behind the plate."
Grieve: I remember there was an injury [to Petralli in 1991] and we needed a catcher. I remembered back in Spring Training when Orlando Gomez made the comment -- he was our scout in Puerto Rico and a manager in the Minor Leagues -- that the best catcher in the organization was Pudge Rodriguez. So, I said, "That's pretty good counting Triple-A and everything." He said, "No Senor, that's big leagues down to Rookie League. He is our best catcher. "
He was in Double-A. We asked for Pudge, and they said, "There is only one complication. He is supposed to get married at home plate at our ballpark in Tulsa" the next morning. And we said, "OK, let him get married at home plate and we'll have him in Chicago the next day after that." So, they talked to Pudge and he said, "No, I can get married [anytime] but I'm going to the big leagues."
Schieffer: We all went up to Chicago to watch the first game. I don't remember who the player was [Joey Cora] but they tried to steal second base. He was out, and it was by 15 feet. I remember we had a charity auction for the foundation at the end of the year. You gave the player his home jersey and had the road jersey up for auction. I bought Pudge's rookie jersey and gave it to my son. I told my son, this kid is going to be in the Hall of Fame, just wait and see.
Petralli: It was pretty evident when I got to see Pudge play he was pretty special. I learned to play other positions pretty quick. It was evident he was a talented young guy who had a grasp of the game.
Sierra: I saw him when he was 19 years old come to big leagues and do all the stuff he could do. It was exciting. Between Julio Franco, Juan Gonzalez and I, we tried to help him. When we saw him in the big leagues and saw what he could do, we knew he was going to have a beautiful career. For me and for Puerto Rico and all the teammates that played with him, I say, "Thank God, I was part of his career. That I was there."