Back Home Again

Stephen Head and Craig Rodriguez have returned to Ole Miss to finish their degrees. Since they are back in school, both former players are serving as student assistants for Ole Miss baseball. Friday, Head's story. Today, Rodriguez's story.

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Craig Rodriguez had three classes to go before getting his Ole Miss degree, and he checked to see if he could take them at the University of Houston in his hometown.

But there were some roadblocks, and he decided to come back to Oxford this fall to finish his hospitality management degree, with an emphasis in hotel and restaurant management. He wanted to stay around the game of baseball, so he decided to contact Coach Mike Bianco just to see if that might happen.

"I sent Coach (Bianco) an email and got some feedback," said Rodriguez, a left-handed pitcher for the Rebels in 2006 and 2007. "Then I called him and we talked a little bit. I asked to just come out and shadow a couple of days a week during the fall. He actually said ‘let me call compliance and see what you can do.' He called me back the following morning and said you can be a fulltime student assistant, come out as much as you want, and we'll let you know what you can and can't do and go from there."

Rodriguez couldn't have been happier.

"Definitely a great opportunity," he said.

Craig Rodriguez
Bruce Newman

Drafted by the Rockies in the 28th round in 2007, Rodriguez played his first year in the Northwest League in Washington State. He went to Low A the next year in Asheville, N.C.

He was released by Colorado in 2009, and was signed by the Kansas City Royals about thirty minutes later. He made it to High A in Wilmington, Del., but started having some arm trouble.

He ended up being diagnosed with bone spurs in his elbow and a torn labrum. So he went the rehab route and finally it felt better, he said.

"But my last outing in spring training 2010 with the Royals, I threw a pitch and it felt like I threw my shoulder out," Rodriguez said.

So he had a little talk with himself.

"I'm 25, I'm married, and I don't have my degree yet," he said. "It's time to map out a different plan.

"When I retired I really didn't tell anybody. I called my agent and told him. I called my dad and told him. I didn't tell my wife until about two hours after I got home. She started crying and told me I seemed OK with it. I told her I was at peace with it, because I knew there was nothing I could have done. I was injured. It's not like I didn't perform well. It was out of my hands."

He went into business with a lifelong friend. It was selling golf club grips. Their business is called University Grips, and it is based on selling grips in school colors. It went well and continues to have possibilities.

But he wanted to stay around baseball since he was coming back to Ole Miss.

"I was like ‘I want to do something.' I knew I wouldn't mind coaching," he said. "I got into it pretty good this summer and in the last year, giving lessons and being hired to coach different select teams, whether it be high school kids or younger kids (in the Houston area). I feel the knowledge gained over the past five or six years, whether it's in college baseball or pro baseball, I'd like to get that knowledge out."

He's excited about being back on Swayze Field with the Rebels.

"Having played for Coach and knowing what he expects," Rodriguez said, "if I see something I can help them with that I know he likes, I can tell them what he likes and this is what he likes to see."

It hasn't been that long since he played for Bianco either. Some of his former Rebel teammates were still on the team this past spring – Jake Morgan, Matt Smith, and David Goforth.

But now it's back to the books, too, along with being out at baseball every day. His wife, Katie, who he met while at Pearl River Community College, is also in Oxford with him.

"They're difficult," he said of his classes." Accounting and finance are my difficult classes and I also have business law."

But in the end, he might not even use that hospitality management degree. Then again, you never know when it might come in handy.

"I want to coach," Rodriguez said.

He's certainly getting a taste of that this school year with the Rebels.

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