This isn’t going to be another column praising Pudge Rodriguez. Though we are going to start there.
Getting to stand a few feet away from baseball’s greatest catcher as he received his second high honor in as many weeks was a treat beyond comprehension. 47,306, just under a thousand more people than lived in Grapevine seven years ago, paid money to watch him realize the final moment of baseball’s great dream.
Without Pudge, there’s a chance I’m not here writing this.
I loved baseball as a kid, but while watching the likes of Rick Helling and Royce Clayton was great the player that I loved above them all was Pudge. So much so that when Tom Hicks’ greed and the front office’s bad judgment caused him to leave, I left with him.
For a few years I traded in my Ranger red for Marlins teal and Tigers orange, even going so far as to root against the team that exiled my baseball hero.
A man’s gotta have a code. It wasn’t personal looking back, but it sure felt that way at the time.
Eventually Pudge and I both found ourselves back at 1000 Ballpark Way. Including last Saturday, where in front of old teammates, friends, and fans, the number 7 became an eternal symbol of greatness that could no longer be tarnished.
With respect to Cesar Tovar, JP Arencibia, and Chuck Cottier, there’s only one player who wore it the way Pudge did.
Yet, something else about Saturday’s events had me pensive over the last few days.
On Saturday, a team and fanbase didn’t just honor someone who was excellent in every facet of their job. They didn’t just honor an icon of baseball deserving of every honor he received.
They honored someone who made it from the bottom up. Someone who they normally might not honor outside of baseball.
We all know the Pudge story; he was spotted at a Puerto Rico tryout camp by Doug Gassaway at 16 even though the Rangers were there to scout someone else. Speaking no English as a teenager, he was signed and brought through the minors before debuting in the big leagues before he could legally drink.
In the time between being spotted at 16 and having his number retired at 45, Pudge excelled at baseball but did so much more. He understood his surroundings, doing his best to learn English. He gave back to his communities through charity, leaving all the places he went better than they were when he arrived.
He became a benchmark for baseball; a beloved figured that outside cynical naysayers, everyone could appreciate without question. Above all else, Pudge is a success story of how we should view our fellow man.
On Saturday before the ceremony, thousands of miles east, people were marching against the idea of people like Pudge. That America isn’t a place for people like Pudge to exist, nevertheless them thriving and succeeding.
Before that even, we had (and still have) leaders in Washington and citizens everywhere who look at people who share a similar story to Pudge and demonize their existence. They don’t want them in America because of prejudiced notions or racist fears peddled to them by their elders, their representatives, or the talking heads on their favorite cable news channels.
It’s not just baseball players though. There are thousands of Pudges in other walks of life out there, from all different nations and creeds. People who need a chance, and when given one will do great things we celebrate.
Do they speak English yet? Maybe not. Can they pass a questionnaire about Olympic gold medals and Nobel Prizes? Probably not.
Neither could Pudge though. He was a 16 year old kid that one seasoned scout had an intuition about. That was his chance, his grand opportunity.
Nobody chooses where they were born. When the zygote forms, it doesn’t choose between a poverty stricken nation and something better. It doesn’t get a choice.
Above all else though, people from other lands aren’t that different from each other. All humans share the bond of common creation and existence. Someone born in Puerto Rico isn’t made of different stuff than someone born in Pennsylvania, Peru, Portugal, or Pakistan. We’re all humans; our situations are just different based on our realities.
Pudge wanted what most people who come to this nation want: opportunity. That’s one of America’s nicknames we like to trot out, the Land of Opportunity. In certain ways that’s tied into the falsehood of a national meritocracy, but putting that aside this is a place where you can make it. You won’t always, but you can.
So on Saturday we celebrated someone who made the most of his opportunity. Someone we love for that, someone who is the .01% success story.
Then on Sunday, some of those same people who celebrated Pudge went back to criticizing people like Pudge who want the same thing Pudge received.
That’s not right.
As we look upon an icon of an organization, shrouded in eternal life because of his contributions to our teams and our nation, let’s not just remember the great person but what that person represents. His journey to baseball excellence is a symbol to all of us.
A vision of hope for people who strive to have even a tenth of success he had, and how hard they’ll work to get it.
Of opportunity and what it does when we drop the pretense of human illegality while adopting the premise of human acceptance.
Of acceptance that our fellow man isn’t a plague, but is afflicted by plagues of poverty and war so much so they’re willing to leave the only place they’ve ever known to escape those horrors.
And of love for all people of all nations and all races, taught by core religious tenets or just common human decency.
We must set aside harmful rhetoric at the highest levels about these people, casting off stereotypes and work as one nation to aid those who want what all of us would want in their situation: a better life.
Pudge isn’t just a legendary baseball player or an iconic Texas Ranger. He’s a reminder that people can do great things if we just give them what our nation promises.
Wish to share your thoughts with Samuel about Pudge Rodriguez? Follow him on Twitter @thesamuelhale.