Ivan Rodriguez will make his first start since July 4 today, and he knows, like everyone else at Nationals Park, that it could be his last home appearance in a Nationals uniform. Rodriguez is at the end of his two-year contract and is unsure of where he will play next season.
For today, he will ignore what comes next and focus on the same thing he has for all 20 of his 20 major league seasons: today’s game.
“I don’t think about that,” Rodriguez said. “If it is, it is. If it’s not, it’s not. I don’t think about that. I think about the game today. I think about doing my best today. I’ve been playing for a while, so we’ll see what happens.”
Rodriguez also discussed his future this morning. He has said he wants to stay in Washington, but there may not be a fit between Rodriguez’s desires and the Nationals’ catching situation. They have Wilson Ramos as a clear-cut starter and no shortage of young options in their minor league system.
Rodriguez has kept himself in superlative condition at 39, and he believes he can still play on a regular basis. He wants enough at-bats to record at least 158 more hits, which would boost his total to 3,000 and make him the first catcher to reach that mark. He also wants to add one more World Series ring to the one he earned in 2003 starring for the Marlins.
“I want to keep playing,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not retiring. I still have a lot of baseball in myself. I always tell everybody that physically, I’m fine. I’m back from the injury. Those things happen to everybody. It happens to me this year, but I put that behind. I will keep myself in shape this offseason, and I’m going to continue playing. There’s still a lot of baseball left in me. I have some goals I need to accomplish. I want to win one more time and get to 3,000 hits. That’s my goal.”
Rodriguez remains an elite defensive catcher and his teammates rave about what his presence means in the clubhouse. He hit .210/.271/.319 in just 41 games this season as Ramos’s backup. The limited opportunity and offensive struggles have not deterred Rodriguez’s belief in his ability.
“I can tell you that I still can play,” Rodriguez said. “If I get the opportunity, I would do a great job. I still can play very good. I can produce for a team. That’s my goal. That’s the way I feel. I always am a hard-working. If you work hard, things are going to happen. That’s something that I would like, to get an opportunity to play a little more and do my job.”
Rodriguez has largely become a spectator because of the strained oblique that shelved him for almost two months and the Nationals’ decision to give Ramos and Jesus Flores all the playing time at catcher. But he has remained a believed figure. “He’s a special person, a special athlete,” Manager Davey Johnson said. Friday night, Rodriguez pinch-hit in the sixth inning and received a sudden standing ovation.
“Beautiful,” Rodriguez said. “Very nice. I appreciated that from the fans. It was awesome. I got chills when I got up there. It’s been a while since I got an at-bat. Yesterday was a good one. That was nice.”
Rodriguez may have one more time to say farewell to Nationals’ fans today. He still does not know for sure.
“Mike Rizzo is the one you need to ask about that, and the manager,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t tell you that I’m coming back here. The only thing I can tell you is that I’m going to keep playing. I’m still going to play for two or three more years.”