Ep. #008: Join Evan and John Rodriguez as John takes us through his baseball journey, talks some hitting including his thoughts on hand path and launch angle, and shares his World Series experience.
What You’ll Learn:
01:20- John’s baseball journey
05:06- Road to the majors
07:40- Hitting in front of Albert Pujols
11:45- How he felt when he was signed by the NY Yankees
13:30- Keys to success when it comes to hitting
14:50- Good hand path
15:50- Thoughts on Launch angle
20:04- Tradeoffs on the road to success
22:50- The importance of Mindset
26:27- Playing in the World Series
Thank you for being here with us! Evan and the Born To Baseball Team are looking forward to celebrating your success and sharing this journey together.
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Episode 008_JOHN RODRIGUEZ WORLD SERIES CHAMPION AND HITTING COACH
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Calling all ball players. Are you ready to take your game to the next level? Were you born to baseball? Then bring it in? it's game time.
Hey guys, welcome to the born to baseball podcast. Today we have John Rodriguez with us. His 17 year pro career started with him getting signed by the New York Yankees in 1996 as an undrafted free agent. He got called up in 2005 by the St. Louis Cardinals and won a World Series ring in 2006. He retired and 2013 with an MLB career average close to 300. He is also the head of operations and head hitting coach at Yorkville baseball Academy, as well as the hitting coach for the Cleveland railroaders based in Texas. John, thank you so much for being here.
Thank you for having me, kid.
Could you start us out by sharing your baseball journey?
I was born and raised in New York. And I went to Brandeis High School and then I had a tryout and Yankee Stadium. My uncle knew a cop, who knew the scout which was ceaser prescot, who was holding a tryout in Yankee Stadium. And they were about I would say, close to 100 kids, and I was the only one that was just as a favor. went in, you know, did what I had to do just more or less, you know, I in a tryout, it's, you know, fly balls in the outfield because I'm a lefty. I rarely play First base, run a 60. Hit batting practice and then it was like more of like a simulator game. And at that time, I was actually my first time swinging a wood bat. And I hit three in the upper deck, then when old Yankee Stadium, which is kind of telling my age, but you know. And then from there, I left because I felt like he didn't, there was no interest. You know, I did what out to do, but you know, I just felt like there was no, no, no, no, like I said, no interest towards me or because he had a bunch of kids there that he had invited. I went to play in the Bronx in the St. Mary's league. And then from there, the president of the league asked me, you know, are you serious about this game? And I was like, Yeah, of course. I love this game. This is I love this game ever since, you know, two years old, I was able to pick up a bat and throw a ball. And he was like, Alright, good, because I have some scouts coming down here to watch you play. I was like, Yeah, right, whatever, you know. And then he saw He's like, No, I'm serious. Like, alright, I'll believe it when I see it. So the Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh, I think it might have been the Cubs and they might have been Milwaukee all came down and watch me play in and long and behold, the Yankee scout was ceaser prescot the one that was holding the tryout and he came up to me after the game. He was like, Where were you? Why did you leave? You know, I was looking all over for you. And I was like, why is like, you know, being my naive self was like, why? He's like, because I want to sign you. I was like, now you're playing around with me. Seriously, don't this is my biggest dream is to get signed specially from the Yankees. And he's like, No, I'm serious. We can't give you a lot of money. So I was Listen to me, I don't care about the money. What I want to do is just give me a plane ticket, get me down there. And I'll show you what I can do. And 17 years later You know, that's, that's really it. I went down there. Enjoyed rookie ball, because in the outfield was me, our first rounder, our third rounder, and our fifth rounder. And guess who, you know, obviously, those three guys are going to start over me. But I took it as a challenge. I didn't feel like they were any better than I was. You know, and I and I proved it. And I ended up being the starter on my rookie ball team, right fielder.
Could you talk to us a little bit about your road to the majors.
road to the majors, who was definitely a tough one. I just said started off in rookie ball, played rookie ball went to a skip short season a once a regular season a which was in Greensboro, North Carolina. Then I spent two years in high which is the Yankees two years in double A and then two years in AAA and then got a signed with the Cleveland Indians in 2005. And then they traded me over to the St. Louis Cardinals where I guess it's just like, they always say, you know, new surroundings brings, you know, new joy. And for some reason it just clicked. Everything clicked I was I hit 343 with 17 home runs and 43 RBI's in 34 games.
You know, and it just something like I said, they call it the zone but what I was feeling was not wasn't scared. I felt like I had nothing to lose, you know, everything was was just coming together and I just felt good. It felt amazing. You know, coming to the baseball, you know, baseball field every day, even if I was, you know, I love that either way, even if I was struggling or I was succeeding, but at that time it was it was just magical like I I can't I couldn't figure it out like it was. It was something that was I was always dreamt of as a little kid when I was in my mother's living room, hitting a baseball and just imagining you know, hitting home runs or you know, being you know, the best at that sport and that at that in that month. That's what I felt. And then from there, Reggie Sanders got hurt. And I guess they had no choice to call me up. Since I was doing so good. Got there soon as I got to the locker room. I was an amazement because I saw, you know, the jerseys. Albert Pulhos, Scott Rowland, Jim Edmonds, you know, Yadier Molina he was a rookie at that time. Adam Wainwright just seeing you know, those guys jerseys and then looking off and seeing number 53 that Rodriguez in the back and I was, I had to hold back my tears I ran into the bathroom and just threw water on my face and make it look like water on my face instead of tears. But it was just a time and place of joy. It was. It was amazing. Soon as I got out the bathroom, Tony larosa goes come into my office. And at that point, I was scared. I was I was really nervous. He was like, you know, howdy, welcome, you know, thanks for being here. You definitely deserve it. You know, I hope you continue. You know your success up here. And I was like, No, I plan on it. But we'll see. What happens? And he was like, that's good because you're starting tonight. Like what? Wait a minute. Are you serious? He's like, yeah, you're starting you're starting in left field and you're hitting second right in front of Pulhos so I was like, All right, I'll make sure to get on base so he can get his RBI's he was like good because that's all he wants. And then at that point in time, the scenario with all that was my thought process was, one be a team player to do everything that you need to do to succeed but also do it in a team atmosphere, not just I I wanted to stay healthy, because that was one of my problems, you know, throughout my career, was trying to stay healthy is just baseball injuries, you know, hamstrings, pulled this pull that you know, just freak accidents and then just enjoy them. Just enjoy. Because you never know what is going to be your last time there. So, you know, even at this time in my life, I still feel like I can do it, but my age obviously is not going to let me. But once you're there, don't take it for granted. Just enjoy every, every every second that you're there and just treat everybody with respect, with admiration with you know, with a lot of love and all that in return, it will come back to you. You know, never think that you're better than anybody else. If you do keep it to yourself, just keep that confidence in yourself. Be confident, not cocky, you know, treat the reporters with respect, because at the same time, I know they're gonna ask you difficult questions. You know, try to answer it as best as you can. And in a respectful manner, you know, especially if you're a great player, you're going to have the microphone in your face, every game 162 games. year plus postseason spring training, you're going to have a microphone in your face. And if you're a great player, those are the guys that dictate if you're going to go on to the Hall of Fame or not so. So you also have to, you know, take that into consideration, but more, more than anything, you just want to be a personable guy where they feel comfortable coming up to you, and knowing that they can talk to you and not be so afraid or standoffish that, you know, they want to just shy away from you. You know, and, and the biggest thing with me too, was the fans. I love the fans like they're there to see you play. And if a little kid, you know, wants an autograph, sign it that's, that was my biggest thing. I'd stopped. I'm going to sign you know. So then, adults, you know, you have guys that want to sell your cards or sell your autograph. It's their hustle. You know, you're in the major leagues you're making as a rookie, you're making half a million. And then you get your contracts you're making into the millions. And if they want to sell your autograph for 20 bucks or 30 bucks or 100 bucks, so be it. You know, they have to make a living also. So I saw it, I saw it in that manner where everything is a hustle, but at the same time, they're also trying to feed their family. So if I'm making that a bunch of money, why, why not share?
like I said, with the kids. That was easy for me. I just did it wasn't even a hesitation.
How cool was it to get signed by one of your hometown teams, the Yankees
oh my gosh,one it was a dream come true. Two it was just seeing those guys on TV and then being with them in the locker room was it's just hard to explain. It's just you're an actor. You know, when you've been watching, you know, Denzel Washington or, you know, Robert DeNiro, you know, on TV your whole life and then all of a sudden you're in the same place with them and you're acting with them. It's kind of surreal. But then after a while when you're there, it's becomes a family and you just, you know, you belong. You know, because you're there. So you know, you belong.
What led you to become an outfielder,
lefty. I can't play that many other positions. Besides outfield and pitch and first base. That's it. So that's why I have my youngest son, who's 17. When he was two years old, he grabbed the ball with his left hand and I told him to drop the ball. I said, Put your left hand behind your back and grab it with your right and throw with your right so he's been doing that.
And can you share some tips that you use in the outfield to take the fast route to the ball.
Oh, that's hard to kind of hard to explain. It's easier to show. That's why I love doing it. Just a lot of drills are like drop steps, you know, reaction times, you know, just knowing knowing where the ball is going to be, and getting there putting your head down and know what's going to be there. Yeah, that's really the best way I could explain it.
You're heading into your second season as the hitting coach for the Cleburne railroaders their team batting average from 2018 to 2019 jumped 32 points and slugging increased by 95 points. So congratulations on that. What are some of your keys to success when it comes to hitting
a hand path, bat path, balance. There's a lot of things that go into it. Like I said before, it's easier for me to show then and to say but uh, a lot of it is controlled anger, controlled aggression. You know, I want people I want the kids, even adults that I teach. I want them to swing hard, but if when they do, it has to be the right approach the right hand path, the right bat path, to get to the ball to stay short to the ball and drive the ball. There's so many elements that go into you know, hitting pitching fielding, obviously, but hitting is probably the most difficult part of baseball because you have a ball that's coming 90 to 100 miles an hour and now it's moving you know, it's not just straight, like I said balance is one of the keys hand path and bat path is the biggest for me
some know you as john hand path, Rodriguez. That just shows how much you preach hand path while hitting. How important is it to have good hand path?
It's one of the keys because you know, like we call it the Allah Derek Jeter, you know how many times he's been jammed and get a base hit to right field. You know, Because he had the right approach, he had the right hand path, getting to the ball staying tight, staying through the ball and, and just believed in himself and believed in his hands.
What's your favorite drill for creating good hand path?
Oh, again, I would have to show you. I'm just trying to stay compact, is trying to stay short, trying to stay tight. And what I mean by tight is, you know, you almost want to swing. Like you're gonna rub your hands across your shirt, you know, stay in short and tight into staying inside the baseball and trying to drive the ball that way. And more or less is just where you may contact is where you're going to hit the ball. Really,
what's your take on the launch angle, type swing,
launch angle is portrayed with some coaches the wrong way and some coaches the right way. A lot of it is you know that a lot of kids are just dropping a barrel behind the zone to bring it up and that's not the right way to do it. You want to drop your bat in so the zone and then have that kind of upward swing but it's it's more of an angle to your bat, which creates and also contact points. You know you could have that loopy swing and then hit a ball out but you could have that loopy swing and topspin balls, Miss balls, which, obviously statistics is showing that that they're more inconsistent with that swing than then consistent, you know? Yes, homeruns have gone up but averages has gone down. strikeouts has gone up walks has gone down slugging percentage, you know, on base percentage for sure. Run as a scoring position. You know, there was a situation you know, with the in the Yankee game during the playoffs. You have runners on third, less than two outs, and both the next two guys struck out. Because of that upward swing, just put the ball in play, that run may count, you know, that run dictates, you know, the outcome of the game. And a lot of guys just see it as and you know, Why get that one run when we could get 2, you're going to have over 500 bats in the big leagues. How many times you think you're going to hit a home run at the most 20, 30, 40 so 40 just say four that's the top guys 44, 40 home runs out of five to 600 bats. It's not a lot. You know, I rather have a guy that hit 20 home runs with 130 RBI's, then a guy hit 40 home runs with 80 or 90 RBI's. That's my you know, I rather have that. That's that's the type of player i would love.
Power is a big part of hitting. What are some key things that you baseball players can do to increase power and exit velocity?
Well, what I do is I use a lot of weighted balls, just to gain strength on your hands, wrists and forearms. Yes, also I do band work with for rotation for your hips, you know, just to get that whip but most of all, I love doing, you know, weighted baseballs. And then also have the hitting jacket where it's a weight that sits in between your bat in the middle of your bat where you could still hit, but it also balances out the bat where it's not top heavy. I like doing those two routines. And the biggest thing, like I said, for me is the weighted balls. It's just like I kind of in comparison to a boxer. Right? He's doing his his training camp. He's punching a heavy bag, and that heavy bag is probably 30 40 pounds heavier than a human being. So the more and more he hits that bag as he gets stronger, and then when he hits a human being in a boxing ring, that's where the knockouts come. And that's where the power comes from.
So you coach both youth and adult players. How do you know when a player is ready for a new piece of information? Is it based on age or skill level and readiness?
Well, they're always they're always ready for new information doesn't matter age, obviously age, you're going to need more. But as you get older, you know, you if, if you're a student of the game, you'll need less but you will always need information no matter what.
How much time should a youth baseball player be investing on their own? If they're serious about playing college ball and one day going pro,
like I said, become a student of the game. It takes a lot of sacrifice. You know, especially as you get older into your teens, you know, you get into middle school, we get into high school. There's friends, there's parties, there's girlfriends. There's a lot of outside distractions that can take you away from your goal. And if you're serious about, you know, not just playing in high school or college, if you're serious about going to the big leagues, there's going to be a lot of sacrifice. And like I said, and I tell you know, the youth today, there's always going to be parties, there's always going to be girls, even for softball women. That's always going to be there. But it gets better. When you make it to the top. You know, be the best you can be. Get your contract. Like I said, Be respectful, be the best person you can be and all that is way Better in the major leagues, you know not to worry about all that. Now, yes, you want, you want to be a kid, that's fine. There's times that you can hang out with your friends. There's times that you can go to parties and stuff like that. But don't let it interfere with your work ethic. Don't let it interfere with your school. Never let it interfere with your school. That's one point. And be decisive be be the person that it say. If I have practice, right, and I've done it, let's say I practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and a have, and I also have practice on Friday, but it interrupts with a school party or a friend's party. If you're serious about it, what are you going to do? You're going to go to practice. Skip the party. You guys let me know how It went. That's fine. This is my goal. This is where I want Be and those that like I said, those are the little things and those are the sacrifices that you have to go through. So you're gonna miss a lot of stuff. But at the end of it all, you're going to be thankful that you did it.
What was your playing and workout routine as a high school ballplayer?
Well, we didn't have any of the facilities, equipment, you know that kids have today. There's no batting cages for us. We kind of had to like invent our own baseballs. We took a tennis ball and make it heavier, we would tape it. You know, we played a lot of sponge ball. A lot of backyard stuff, you know, put the guys put all your friends together and then just play that way. A lot of us didn't have baseball gloves. So we just you know, play the sport without gloves and just use our hands just to make it even for everybody. A lot of things a lot of you know the way I truly got better was that playing with my friends in the backyard and then mimicking a lot of the guys on TV. You know, like, you know, Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, Paul O'Neill guys like that. Ken Griffey Jr. You know, those are the guys. I just watched him on TV as a lefty, I would mimic their swing. And you know, just had a feel for what they were doing, but didn't really know the process on how they were doing it. So that was a confusing part. But every time I mimicked it, it felt good and it felt real. So I just went with that.
How important has mindset been for you in your career?
Oh that's the biggest one. That's the most powerful tool for any human being warrior athlete. Its your brain its your mind. Just being in control, being in control of your of your body of your everyday life, it's it's the biggest thing like you couldn't you could control. Whatever you want to control is if you put your mind to it and study and read and understand emotions, understand people's feelings understand, you know what type of lifestyle you want, you know, the mind, like I said is the most powerful thing anybody can have.
You played in the MLB for two years with the Cardinals. How often did you get to pick the brains of other players
every day Every day Like all right, different situations. I pick the brain of Chris carpenter and Adam Wainwright on how they get hitters out. Pick the brain on with Albert Pulhos, our pools and hitting in all different situations. Also did that with Jim admins on Hitting because he was lefty and then also I did with Jim Emmons picked his brain about you know, how to how to become a better outfielder you know how to how to approach the game with different hitters and their power where do they hit the ball the most and how does he you know, get around the baseball to you know, have a better throw up a better throwing, you know, position to the basis and also with you know, yadi Molina same thing you know how he would go about you know, calling pitches for different hitters slap guys power guys, average guys, you know, just different scenarios. And then also, as I was getting older in my career, I spoke to the coaches on you know, how to coach how to be a manager how to be a hitting coach, you know, and how to teach. You know, the guys
yeah, was there one piece of advice that stood out to you the most
a lot of time times guys would just say, you know, just be true to yourself and know, know your game. You know, don't if you're a slap guy, don't try to be a power guy. If you're a power guy, don't try to do too much. Just play your game and try to be the best player for your team.
youth baseball players like me, we dream of playing in the MLB playing in the World Series is the next level. How much different as a World Series game than a regular season?
Well, it's, it's mind blowing. It's it's excitement from before the first pitch. So even after the last pitch. It's just an experience because now you know, you have 32 teams, and usually, only your fans and the team's fans that you're playing against are watching. Now it's the World Series. You're the only two teams left now you have a million have fans watching you, you know, even if they're fans of someone else, they're watching the game. So that's where they call it you know, that's the stage that's where your dad, you know, being a an artist in the music industry. He'll be at a club and then all of a sudden he's playing in the Super Bowl. You know he's playing halftime the Super Bowl and it's like, everybody's watching you now. You know and it's the same kind of the same aspect and not top of that is like I said, You can't let the moment get too big. treated as just like for me, yes, I was nervous but at the same time, I just treat it as a you know, backyard, you know, baseball game with my friends. I didn't let the moment get too big for me.
What was your reaction when Adam Wainwright threw that last pitch to strike out Brandon Inge and win the World Series.
Mind blowing, Unbelievable. dream come true. Just Is this real? Just everything you can think of as a kid just at that moment was real
What's your favorite memory from the World Series?
when Adam Whainwrigh struck out, Brandon Inge, because it was over. Yeah, just to celebrations. Just knowing that we were world champions, and nobody could ever, ever take that away from us.
That's awesome. And now I want to move on to the Rapid Fire question.
All right, let's do it. Oh, hotseat?
What was your favorite team growing up
New York Yankees.
Who's your favorite power hitter of all time.
I would have to say Ken Griffey Jr. Because him and Barry Bonds but Ken Griffey Jr. The most because I'd followed him a lot,
in your opinion, who's the best clutch player of all time.
I would love to say, postseason wise is Derek Jeter and and just like all around when I was playing like my first, those first 10 years just watching his Albert Pulhos and then Now, obviously, you know Mike trout.
Last but definitely not least, how often do you clean your World Series ring?
Oh, probably every month just to check if it's still in the safe.
Are there any projects you're working on or have coming up that you'd like to share?
Going back to be the hitting coach for the Cleveland railroaders I'm excited about that. And then hopefully, you know if everything works out, either continue there or throw my hat in the ring for an MLB job.
Where can people go to follow you or learn more about you?
I'm at the Yorkville baseball Academy on 106 and First Avenue in New York, New York. I'm there Monday through Saturday. And then Google.
JOHN, thank you so much for being here.
Oh, you're awesome kid
and sharing great knowledge with the born to baseball community.
Thank you very much for having me.
So it's tradition around here to have some ice cream after so you're ready?
Let's get it
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