Riggleman assumed the conversation, telling a legend he was now a platoon player, maybe a backup soon, was going to be hard. After the men spoke for 10 or 15 minutes, Riggleman was surprised. He had nothing to worry about.
“It was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with a ballplayer since I’ve been managing,” Riggleman said. “He was just first-class, and it really speaks to the quality individual that he is.”
The Nationals’ transition to Ramos, 23, as their everyday catcher begins today. Rodriguez, 39, expressed not only his comfort with the idea, but also his support. Ramos grew up in Venezuela idolizing Rodriguez. Now that he is taking part of Rodriguez’s job, with Rodriguez 183 hits away from 3,000, Rodriguez will still help Ramos.
“I had no problem,” Rodriguez said. “I know that he is a great player. He’s the future of our ball club. I’m here to work with him. I don’t have no problem with that. I’m going to play a lot of games. Right now, I feel like I want to contribute to the ball club. The most important thing for me is to help the ball club. I just want to win. We have a great team. We have a nice group of guys. We’re ready to win ballgames, and that’s the most important thing.
“I’m a grown man. I’m a professional. We sat down and talked for a little while, talked for 10, 15 minutes. The conversation was great. [Riggleman] saw from me the person that I am. Basically, that’s the person that I am. He told me that, and we sit and we talk about things. I told him, ‘The only thing that I want is to have a better team every day.’ I’m a winner. I’ve been in the playoffs, I’ve been in the World Series already. I’ve been on good teams. And I learned from those experiences. That’s what I would love to bring here, especially the young guys. It will be a good situation.”
Today, even shortly after learning his diminished role, Rodriguez maintained his desire to finish his remarkable career in Washington. Rodriguez wants to play between three and five more seasons – “he’s got a lot of baseball left,” Riggleman said. If and when Rodriguez becomes the first full-time catcher to reach 3,000 hits, he wants to do it in a Nationals uniform.
“Absolutely. I would love to,” Rodriguez said. “There’s still a lot of baseball in me. I feel like I can help this team in so many ways – in the field, off the field, with my teammates. And I still have a lot of baseball. This is a great organization, great city to play. Beautiful ballpark. And the team is improving. Every year, it’s getting better and better. I would like to finish here. That’s my goal, to stay here and accomplish my goals I want to accomplish – be in another playoffs, another World Series and reach 3,000 hits.”
While Rodriguez adjusts to life as a non-everyday player, Ramos embraced his opportunity. Last season, the Nationals alternated games between Ramos and Rodriguez. For the first nine games of this season, he’ll play every other day. As for now, “we literally have two No. 1s” at catcher, Riggleman said. But, he added, as the year goes along, “I think we’re going to move towards” Ramos being the everyday catcher.
“I’m very excited for this opportunity,” Ramos said. “I was waiting for this. I will learn with Pudge, he’s going to teach me a lot. I want to learn with him so I will try to do the best I can. He’s got a lot of experience. I need to get experience too. Hopefully I want to play a lot of years with this team so I need to learn a lot.”
The Nationals hope splitting time will make both Ramos and Rodriguez more effective. It will allow Ramos to stay in rhythm while keeping Rodriguez fresh, with more days off. Last September, when Ramos and Rodriguez played virtually every other day, Rodriguez had a .317 on-base percentage and a .407 slugging percentage, both well above his season totals.
“It could be good for both of us,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been here for one season. We get along well. I’m going to be with him all the time. I’m always keeping myself in good shape. I work hard. I’m always going to be ready to go. I’m going to still play. It’s not going to be on everyday basis, but I’m going to be playing. You guys are going to see me playing a lot. It’s going to help, because we both are going to be fresh all the time.”