Eddie Rodriguez was my baseball coach at the Boys & Girls Club in Miami, from the time I was 8 years old until I was about 16. Everyone kind of feared him, but it was a good kind of fear. You felt safe with Eddie, like being with him was the place to be. He played in the Chicago Cubs organization for a while, but ultimately he landed in Miami, in Coconut Grove, working with kids, and in more than 30 years he's coached about 35 future Major League players. That's an incredible track record.
I grew up a New York Mets fan and an Atlanta Braves fan, but really, down in Miami, my idea of big league baseball was playing for the University of Miami. That was the big time. As a kid it was kind of an unclear dream to play college baseball. But as I grew older, my dream became more clear and I thought I could make it. That was Eddie's influence. That was going to the Williamsport tournament, going out to play in San Francisco, winning all these championships. Even now, a lot of my closest friends are the people I used to play ball with at 9 or 10 years old. We were a tight-knit group, and that was Eddie's doing too. He was so passionate about the game and so dedicated to it that it rubbed off. And it's stayed with us.
He didn't mess with our mechanics very much. He thought you needed to give kids time and room to grow. And it worked pretty well. With me I was always a shortstop, but back then I was a much better fielder than I was a hitter, probably because I was playing with kids who were so much older than me. It wasn't until I went to high school, playing with kids my own age, that I started to hit. It was a surprise to me but not to Eddie. He said he always knew I would hit.
To this day he still makes it to a lot of my games. He picks up on little things, and we talk about them. I don't make a big decision without talking to Eddie. Baseball, business, life--I trust him completely. It's a nice relationship to have after all these years. It's very pure.
When I made the move to the Yankees, I had to switch from shortstop to third base. It was Eddie I called to talk it over. It was Eddie who met me at the field immediately after the deal was made and started hitting me grounders at third, getting me ready, just like he used to do when I was
8 years old.
This is an excerpt from Denzel Washington's book on mentoring, A Hand To Guide Me.
January is National Mentoring Month. Most successful people say they had mentors along the way who guided and encouraged them. The Harvard Mentoring Project has been conducting videotaped interviews and collecting written essays in which prominent people from various fields talk about their mentors. Who mentored you? --The Harvard Mentoring Project
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