Monday, February 18, 2013

Devon Rodriguez...and the Two Minute Drill

When Cal baseball player Devon Rodriguez said he was at full strength and ready to play, he definitely meant it.

After sitting out last season because of a knee injury and blood clot in his calf, Devon, a redshirt junior first baseman and designated hitter, wasted no time in showing what the team was missing last season without his bat in the lineup.
Devon at AT&T Park during a 2011 game against Rice.
Photo by Kelley Cox,
In the home opening series of the 2013 campaign, he went 8-for-11 with 4 RBI and helped the Bears sweep Michigan.

In Friday afternoon’s game Devon hit a game-tying single in the ninth, picking up where he left off in 2011…
…he went 5-for-5 and hit three doubles against Rice.

…he went 2-for-4 hitting a double, a home run, and driving in two runs against Ohio State.
…he went 4-for-5 crushing a home run and driving in three runs against USC.

And, while he put up good numbers during that season finishing with a .408 slugging percentage and a .341 on-base percentage, it was the Houston Regional in June that will be forever linked to Devon.
On June 6, 2011, in one of the most exciting games in the program’s history, the regional finals against Baylor, Devon went 3-for-4 with a home run and 4 RBI, and had his biggest hit ever…which Cal Coach David Esquer has called the “most famous hit.”

He lived every little kid’s dream…ninth inning, down by one, bases-loaded, two outs…and it’s all on you. Devon stepped up to the plate and got the hit that brought in two runs to beat Baylor 9-8 and move Cal into the next round. He was 8-for-18 for a .444 batting average, and collected 6 RBI in five games to earn the Most Outstanding Player Award for the Regional.
Cal did the remarkable during the postseason, battling back from six elimination games, going through the losers’ bracket and winning four straight games in that Houston Regional, and winning both games in the Super Regional to advance to the College World Series.

Of course it was a remarkable season off the field, as well. On the brink of elimination as a sport due to budget constraints, the boosters and alumni raised $9 million to save the program.
And, the team just kept grinding away and winning…finishing the ride tied for fifth at the College World Series with a 38-23 record.

I sat down with Devon Rodriguez recently and he shared his story.
PJ: 2011 was quite a season. Baseball was cut and then it was brought back and through all of this you kept winning and made it to the College World Series. What was it like playing not knowing if Cal baseball would see another season?

Devon: 2011 was a rollercoaster ride. So many ups and downs, we were never sure of our future. We wanted to prove to everyone that they were wrong to cut us. We played for us with a chip on our shoulder…for the guys to the left and right of us. I have never played with guys who were so unselfish…not thinking about their personal stats, just trying to get a win.
We never thought they would cut baseball as it is one of the oldest sports at Cal. We were like Band of Brothers…we went to war every day trying to make it last. There was no complacency the whole season. This really helped us get to the College World Series.

PJ: You had a big hit in the Regional finals that season. Tell me about the hit.
Devon: The game…the best game I’ve ever been part of. We were down in the 9th by four runs. Everyone was getting on base anyway they could. I knew the whole season was in my hands. You dream of this growing up. Playing in the backyard…you play this scenario. I was blessed to get a hit. It wasn’t for me…it was for my team and for all those who fought for us and brought us back.

PJ: Last year you injured your knee and ended up sitting out for the entire season. What happened?
Devon: In practice I dove for a ball and landed wrong and hurt my knee. I was only supposed to be out six weeks, but got a blood clot in my calf and was out the whole season. It was devastating for me. I felt like I let the team down, but I knew the guys behind me would pick it up. We’ve been through lots of adversity and they gave their best effort every game, but didn’t make the playoffs. I am excited to get back on the field again and battle with these guys.

PJ: What was rehab like?
Devon: Once I got the blood clot there was no physical activity. I was out two months. Once that got cleared up I had great trainers and medical staff that helped me back to full strength. Every day we strengthened all the muscles in my legs. There was no stopping once I got clearance…it was full go. I just knew how I felt and how much I could push myself.

PJ: What was it like getting back onto the field?
Devon: The first time playing in a game this year I was nervous. It had been so long since I played. But, it was fun. I will not take this game for granted. This injury tested me as a person and a player. My support system is strong…my coaches, friends, and family. I am back at full strength and excited for the season, for the team to do things the right way and have a great season.

PJ: What are your goals for this season and beyond?
Devon: My goals personally are to do everything to help the team win. If it means I hit certain numbers, so be it. But, my goal is to help this team win and get to the College World Series.

I’d like to play baseball as long as possible. After that I’d like to go into law.