Rodrigues armed and ready
|Video: Baseball players take the 'red-eye'|
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stacy Kaneshiro
Even before Mike Trapasso became baseball coach after the 2001 season, Hawai'i had an eye on Mark Rodrigues. It just wasn't for baseball.
Rodrigues, a 2001 graduate of Kaua'i High, starred in two sports on the Garden Isle. Besides garnering second-team all-state honors in baseball his senior year, he was a first-team all-state pick in volleyball.
"Mike Wilton (UH men's volleyball coach) had an exhibition on Kaua'i," the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Rodrigues recalled. "My high school coach told him about me. (Wilton) talked to me after the game. He asked me if I wanted to play (volleyball). I told him I still had baseball left. He said, 'If baseball doesn't work out, then you can come play volleyball for me.' "
But Rodrigues grew up watching Rainbow baseball on TV and "wanted to be like the Paul Ah Yats and you name all the (other) left-handed pitchers that came out of UH." And volleyball was shelved when the Montreal Expos drafted him in the 29th round. As a draft-and-follow, Rodrigues went to Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, Calif. He did well enough that the Oakland Athletics drafted him in the 37th round in 2002. He wanted to sign, but his mother told him to stay in school.
After completing his degree at Los Medanos, the Rainbows signed him. But elbow problems kept Rodrigues sidelined. On May, 28, 2004, he had Tommy John surgery, which has a long recovery process. Rodrigues also missed the 2005 season. He finally returned last season. Still, after being out so long, there was apprehension. Every twinge, even if not related to the elbow surgery, triggered thoughts.
"In the back of my mind, I was thinking, 'My elbow, my elbow, my elbow,' " Rodrigues admitted.
"The thought of cutting it loose takes a while to set in," Trapasso said.
It wasn't until the regular season-ending road series at San Jose State that Rodrigues started having confidence in his elbow.
"I went into the game and one of my teammates said, 'Just let it go. Your arm is just fine,' " Rodrigues said. "I was like, 'OK, whatevers.' So I just let it go. After that, it got better."
Rodrigues went 4-2 with a 4.66 earned run average in 15 appearances, 12 of them starts.
He then went to Wisconsin for summer ball, where he could really test his arm. He pitched for the Eau Claire Express of the Northwoods League, finishing 0-3 with a 3.73 ERA in seven starts totaling 46 innings.
On his way home, he stopped in Las Vegas to visit his older brother, whose girlfriend is a physical therapist. She introduced Rodrigues to another PT, who also works on tennis star Andy Roddick. He got new exercise and stretching routines and felt the difference in fall workouts.
"When I started throwing the ball, I noticed I was actually popping the glove," Rodrigues said. "Right there, I got my confidence back. Two, three bullpens into it, it was, 'OK, I was good to go. Nothing should be holding me back.' "
Trapasso says Rodrigues' velocity has increased from last season and to the point where he was before the injury — in the high 80s and low 90s mph.
"He's a competitor and a tremendous athlete," Trapasso said. "He really worked hard this summer and fall on his changeup, which is better. Now what remains to be seen is going out and doing it in game competition."
Rodrigues didn't waste his time while in rehab. He kept up his studies and will graduate with a degree in sociology in May.
On Wednesday, Rodrigues got word that his sixth-year of eligibility was approved because of his medical hardship. Since pitchers can easily work on their own, there was no worry that he would be in game condition for the weekend season opener with Santa Clara. He is scheduled to start the second game of the series on Saturday.
"I just want to go after it," Rodrigues said. "I can't wait."
Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.