October 23, 2013, 2013
by Wayne McBrayer with photos by Rebecca Herman
Sometimes things don’t go as planned and that is something I found out this year talking to players. Sometimes they are too busy or not in the mood to chat. Some are open and love to talk about their passion for the game. Personally, this is the story I love the most.
Frank Garces is a young pitcher for the Lake Elsinore Storm who had been promoted in 2013 from A Fort Wayne where he had a solid season. I approached Frank and he indicated to me he didn’t speak English. I was about ready to give up on the interview when a young man sitting on the bench said, “I’ll help Frank” and up stepped Storm catcher, Jeremy Rodriguez. Jeremy was willing to translate the interview for us. With Jeremy’s help, I was able to find out Frank started watching baseball when he was 4 years old and played baseball at the park in his neighborhood when he was a kid. He started playing organized ball when he was 6 and he was a big fan of Pirates pitcher, Francisco Liriano. “He’s a great pitcher and I love how he pitches the game.” Frank started spring training “working on the lower part of the strike zone. Making sure I command all of my pitches for strikes and throwing them when I want to throw it.” He came close to throwing a no-hitter on July 9th in San Jose, taking it into the 7th before giving up a hit. Frank is a huge fan of the game who watches it on TV whenever he can.
I thanked Frank for his time and asked Jeremy if we could talk to him and he was more than happy to oblige. His earliest memory of the game was very special; “I was 4 years old and it was picture day at Dodger Stadium. I was taking ground balls with my dad and Tommy Lasorda told me I should be playing baseball by the way I was taking ground balls.” He grew up advancing in Little League and by the age of 18, he started getting coached by a player I grew up loving… Reggie Smith. “He is my second favorite player and is actually my hitting coach in the off-season. The knowledge of him and what he’s taught me in the last 6 years has been a blessing. He has definitely helped me get to the point where I am today.” He also loved another player who inspires him to be a better catcher and that is Ivan Rodriguez. “He is a good example for me, for example my height and Ivan wasn’t the biggest guy but the way he played the game he played it the right way, he played it hard.”
Jeremy, like his favorite player Ivan, is a hard worker who continues to attempt to improve his game. He started spring training working on his hitting and catching. “Me being a switch hitter, you have to work double for both sides, that is definitely something I wanted to improve. I wanted to make sure I got my reps in both sides of the plate and overall catching as well. They tell us in the organization that they want our defense to be first and then our hitting, which I understand because the way the game is we call our game, we take care of the defense so we gotta make sure we are on point defensively.” He values the opportunity the Padres have given him and considers the day he was drafted his proudest career moment. “It has been a blessing to be a part of a great organization for them to give me the opportunity to play the game I love. A lot of the hard work I have put in the last 20 years of my life finally paid off. Just hearing my name called out is huge.”
As we wrapped our interview, Jeremy talked about a part of the game we weren’t expecting and that was announcing. “I played baseball in Alaska, and I got a chance to broadcast a little bit and you know what? It was so much fun and I enjoyed talking about the game, watching the game, and it was a good experience for me, so to be honest, if I wasn’t playing I would try to get in that line of work. Just with the knowledge behind the plate and understanding the game so well I could be a good career path for me.” Being bilingual also has opened the door to possibly do Spanish announcing as well as helping teammates. “Exactly, that has been a blessing from my parents teaching me when I was young and it helps me with Frank mostly. Most of the times in a series I catch Frank because I can communicate with him and he feels really comfortable with me behind the plate, which is a huge bonus being a switch hitter.”
Whether it’s on the field, or in the booth, Jeremy Rodriguez will be a blessing to whoever he works with, something I know Frank Garces understands already.
Interview & Story by Wayne McBrayer, TheCasualFan
Editing & Photography by Rebecca Herman, TheBaseballPHD