New Great Lakes Loons’ manager Jeremy Rodriguez can certainly identify with his players. After all, he was in their shoes just a handful of years ago.
At 27, Rodriguez, also known as J-Rod, is by far the youngest of the eight managers in Loons’ history. In fact, the entire coaching staff is young — new pitching coach Connor McGuiness is also 27, while new hitting coach Jair Fernandez is 30, and fourth coach Fumi Ishibashi is 33.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Director of Player Development Gabe Kapler is excited about Rodriguez’s potential.
“J-Rod is energetic, bright, diligent and caring,” Kapler said. “He has strong leadership characteristics. We asked him to lead a young, bright, promising staff, and we believe in his ability to dominate this opportunity. There is zero doubt our (players) will be better (for) having spent time with J-Rod.”
While new to the Dodgers’ organization, Rodriguez isn’t new to managing. He managed the San Diego Padres’ Dominican Summer League team the past two seasons after retiring following a four-plus-year minor league career as a catcher with the Padres, who drafted him in 2011.
Rodriguez, who stands 5-foot-8, also has the distinction of having started his managing career a mere four days after retiring as a player.
“That was pretty quick. I jumped right into it,” he said. “That’s the way I wanted it to be. I wanted to learn; I wanted to make mistakes. I’m a big believer that the way you grow as a person is you make mistakes and you learn from them.”
Rodriguez has done a lot of learning. Born in southern California to a Peruvian mother and a Cuban father, he learned to speak Spanish from his grandmother.
Rodriguez majored in communications and minored in acting at the University of California Santa Barbara, where he also played baseball.
“Being in front of a crowd never bothered me,” he said. “I could talk to thousands of people, and I wouldn’t have a problem. I enjoy giving information and just interacting with people.”
As a manager, Rodriguez makes energy and enthusiasm a priority.
“I’m always going to be the one putting energy out there,” he said. “When I was a player, I never liked having a coach that would just sit down and not do anything. (Dodgers’ manager) Dave Roberts is a great example (for me). (I spent) one day in big league camp and (saw) how he interacted with all the players, the energy that he brought. He really lifts the team up.
“So that’s how I go about my business. I’m making sure these (players) are having fun every day, but they’re (also) getting their work in. (I want to) have them play loose, but also make them feel invincible — make them feel that they can do whatever and reach the highest point that they can.”
Loons’ outfielder Cody Thomas has responded to Rodriguez’s enthusiasm.
“He brings good energy to the group,” Thomas said. “I definitely think he’s going to be a players’ coach. He seems to really care about all of us.”
Rodriguez takes over a Loons’ team that won its first Midwest League championship last season.
“Coming off a league championship, all I’m trying to do is get these guys to have a good culture and a good atmosphere … and be ready to compete for another one,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez and his fiancée, Cami Patton, are engaged to be married in September 2018.
“My fiancée and I love to go hiking, (and) we love to go the beach,” he said. “We had an off day the other day and I took her to the Grand Canyon, so that was a beautiful experience. We enjoy life, we enjoy this world, so we try to be out and be active as much as we can.”
Rodriguez said that he and the rest of the Loons’ coaching staff are renting a house together in Midland during the season, and they plan to do some barbecuing when the weather gets warm.
“We’ll do a lot of cooking, a lot of bonding. It’s going to be fun,” Rodriguez said.