Rodriguez looking forward

Javy Rodriguez hurt as he prepared for the College World Series, but it was nothing that could be cured with a cortisone shot or an extra few hours in the training room for the University of Miami All-American shortstop.

Before stepping out on the field in Omaha and helping the Hurricanes notch another national championship, Rodriguez endured several days of pain -the result of a phone call that never came.

The same player that had guided the Hurricanes with a team-leading .382 batting average, 92 hits, four triples, 10-game winning hits and a nation's best 66 stolen bases struggled to understand as he watched 13 of his teammates being drafted. Despite being considered the best player of the best team in the country, Rodriguez went unnoticed by Major League Baseball's professional scouts.

"For those two days of the draft I was mad, I think anybody would be," said Rodriguez, expected to lead the Hurricanes as they open defense of their national title tonight against the University of Tennessee at Mark Light Stadium. "I didn't know what to think. It's one of those things that you look for a reason, but can't put your finger on it."

"I have no idea, I wish I knew why. I never bring it up anymore. But I'd be lying if I said it didn't help me to prepare. I've worked hard all off-season, but I'm not out to prove anything. I know what kind of player I am. Hopefully, I can pick up where I left off last season."

Miami head coach Jim Morris was as equally disturbed as Rodriguez was and could not understand how a player of such caliber could be bypassed by so many teams. Morris didn't have words either to explain why Rodriguez wasn't drafted this time around after being selected in the 26th round by the New York Yankees out of Gulliver Prep High School in 1998.

"I didn't know if I was more surprised or disappointed about the whole thing," said Morris. "I wanted to help Javy get through it, but found myself with little to say. It was a tough time for the young man.".

Rodriguez, who has shed 15 pounds through a vigorous off-season training program, could have used the physical transformation much sooner. A pro scout in the National League East said earlier this week that although Rodriguez set a school-record with his stolen base total last season, he doesn't have the physical skills that former UM players and current minor leaguers Charlton Jimerson and Mike Rodriguez do.

"There are no guarantees in this game. If I would have known Rafy Palmiero would have turned into a 40-homer a season guy and that Mike Piazza would go from a guy that nobody wanted to one of the best hitters in the game, I'd be sitting in an island somewhere," said the scout.

"Javy to me is one of the those guys that does every well, but doesn't wow you in any areas. He's not the fastest guy and he doesn't have the best of arms. I seen him a couple of times and though to myself ‘Man, this kid, doesn't even look like a ballplayer. What he is very knowledgeable of the game. He knows when to take off an a pitcher and is very well in tuned with the game in that aspect. But who's knows I've been wrong before."

Ironically, Rodriguez says that the only reason he could think of on why he didn't get drafted was that he didn't look physically imposing enough in his uniform. Rodriguez also did a lot of work on improving his speed in the off-season despite breaking a mark last season that stood for close to three decades. The 5-11, 176-pounder ran past Orlando Gonzalez in the UM record books. Gonzalez had 62 stolen bases in 1974.

"They're always looking for the chiseled guys with all the speed," Rodriguez said. "There's nothing I can do about that."

Rodriguez isn't worrying of what could have. Instead, he is focusing on the present, which includes guiding a young Hurricanes team as they defend their championship. Rodriguez is taking on the responsibility of teaching the ‘young guys' and is intent of going to Omaha one last time.

"The goal here is always to get to Omaha and winning Omaha. These guys are young, but they can play. I wouldn't take them lightly," said Rodriguez, who can become the only UM baseball player ever with three national championship rings. Rodriguez was also on the 1999 championship squad.

The thought of winning another College World Series, leading in the development of a revamped line-up and getting his criminology degree is enough to keep Rodriguez' juices flawing. But not getting drafted is a thing of the past. "I don't have to prove anything. It doesn't matter and its out of my hands," said Rodriguez, who has a .367 career average, 144 runs scored, 222 hits and 25 doubles at the University of Miami entering the 2002 season.

The task of putting it behind him starts this weekend as the Hurricanes host Tennessee. Junior Troy Roberson will start the opener for the Hurricanes, while Patrick Hicklen (5-4, 5.27) will take the mound for the Volunteers. Tennessee has four players in their starting line-up from Miami: sophomore catcher Javi Herrera (Gulliver Prep); junior shortstop Walter Sevilla (Coral Gables High ); sophomore first baseman Dennis Gomez; senior third baseman Matt Sternberg (Killian High School).

Miami defeated Tennessee twice in the 2001 CWS (12-6, 21-13) on their way to a 52-13 finish. The Volunteers, who lost 12 players off last year's roster, finished 48-20 and third in the CWS. "I can't wait. I've had it circled on my calendar for a while," said Rodriguez.

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