On Tuesday afternoon, the Springfield Cardinals held an exclusive meet-and-greet event for season-ticket holders at the Hammons Field indoor training facility, introducing the guest of honor, new 2017 skipper Johnny Rodriguez.
As was the case two years ago with former manager Dann Bilardello, fans were treated with a question and answer session with the team's new leader followed by a brief opportunity to meet the 60-year old up close. Rodriguez then addressed the media to conclude the event.
"It looks as though (Springfield) has a good winning tradition," said Rodriguez. "I'm just hoping I can continue it and bring The Cardinal Way here to continue it. The people here are very humble. I feel like at home because everyone is easy to talk too. Hopefully, I will do well."
Rodriguez often reiterated The Cardinal Way throughout the Q&A session, describing the moniker as "It's not about drafting the best player; it's drafting the best person and eventually we develop them. You’re going to have a lot of leaders in that clubhouse, and that will develop a winning culture. That’s The Cardinal Way.”
"There's no ‘I’ here," he added. "It's all ‘us’. Cardinals. Together. One way."
With that comes an even-keel approach the Cuban native preaches to his players because of the fluctuating results in baseball.
"That's the way to do it," Rodriguez said. "I don't think there's any other way because players are going to see that. In the moment you have to make the best decision. If I'm rattled, then I'm going to make the wrong decision. If you keep your emotions in check, you're going to make the right decisions most of the time, and that will lead to something good.
"In the end, the player has to execute. You got to talk about controlling the controllable, which means controlling your emotions. As a manager, I don't care if this guy just hit a grand slam. I’ve got to worry about the next batter, the next pitch, and I’ve got to be anticipating. Controlling your emotions is key to doing anything as a leader."
When asked about his son Sean Rodriguez and his family, who were recently hospitalized following a car accident, the father drew tears during the Q&A and thanked God.
"It was a miracle that they all came out alive,” he told the fans. “No (serious) injuries, but just a few broken bones. He'll be ready for spring training. Just a miracle what God did that night in Miami."
Rodriguez’s outspoken and enthusiastic remarks were an immediate highlight for the season ticket holders on Tuesday. Not only did he talk about The Cardinal Way, but also developing a good person like an Adam Wainwright or Matt Carpenter into a good player is important, and how he depends on his faith both on and off the field.
Perhaps one of the more interesting facts about Rodriguez is that in his youth, he played center field with a team that included a number of big-league players, playing the position with “Deion Sanders speed.” He also said he dabbled in the music industry as a drummer before realizing his future was in baseball.
The manager, who guided the Low-A (short-season) State College Spikes to the New York-Penn League title last year and has two other titles in his seven years of managing in the Cardinals organization, explained how he balances winning in the minor leagues against the ultimate goal in player development while excelling in both departments in his coaching career.
"I never speak to my players about winning," Rodriguez stated. "That's the last thing I talk about. What I try to tell them is, 'Why are we here?' The execution is the most important thing. How do I get players to win without having them develop their skills?
"Number one is very important to know the signs of the game. Don't ever miss a sign that I give you. Don't ever not back up a base. I always say the first five months, in this case, there's two seasons here, but the first five months of the season I'm still in spring training till the last month, so I just back away and let them play.
"If they do the fundamental things right - follow instruction, be on time to the clubhouse, don't be late for anything, try helping and encouraging one another when things get bad. What I try to balance is pay attention to detail. I harp on it all the time."
Rodriguez, who has assisted at the big-league level before, compared managing at the Double-A level to the majors. He considers himself a student of the game, studying other sports to evaluate different reactions, decisions, and what not. Although he says that one of the big challenges for him will be double-switches.
When it comes to promotions, the Cardinals evaluate how a player gets to a level, catches up to the level, and eventually passes it. When asked about how he knows that a player has passed a level, Rodriguez answered:
"Consistency," the manager said. "No peaks and valleys in his game. So when he can be consistent in his game at that level, he's ready to move up. When he has peaks and valleys in his game, he's not ready to move up because the peaks and valleys will be worse at the next level."
Rodriguez is eager to get the season started, who expects to report to Jupiter, FL on Feb. 17 to aid the big-league club. He should also be among those in STEP Camp with the rest of the minor leaguers reporting soon after.
Springfield opens 2017 action, hosting parent club St. Louis at Hammons Field on Friday, Mar. 31 in a game that's been named the Route 66 Rumble.
"That is very exciting," Rodriguez said. "I hope that we both come out healthy and there's no injuries. That's the main thing in that game. We're not out there to beat them up. We're out there to play the game and make sure we both come out healthy."
The 2017 Springbirds will get their regular season underway at Frisco on Minor League Opening Day, Thursday, April 6.
For those who want to go even deeper, you can listen to Rodriquez’ full 30-minute session with Springfield supporters.
Follow the 2017 S-Cards via The Cardinal Nation
Join The Cardinal Nation to follow the new version of the Double-A Cardinals. Derek Shore’s fourth season of weekly notebooks will appear each Thursday for TCN members, offering in-depth news direct from Hammons Field.
But that is not all. TCN features a crew of local reporters covering the games of all Cardinals minor league clubs in person – sharing insider information and providing end-to-end coverage of the Cardinals organization not available anywhere else.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
© 2017 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and scout.com/mlb/cardinals. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.