ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – Twenty-one years have passed in Arlington since the arrival of a pudgy 19-year-old Puerto Rican kid.
He made his debut on the road in Chicago on June 20 of 1991, and first walked onto the grass at Arlington Stadium nearly two weeks later on July 2.
In his first game in the home white and blue jersey, he nearly picked off Rickey Henderson, already baseball’s undisputed stolen base king.
The crowd (including 12-year-old me) went electric. They knew they had something special in this kid who spoke broken English. No, he didn’t pick Henderson off, but he got close enough to let Rickey Henderson know Rickey Henderson had to think twice about trying to steal off of him.
The fans and the 19-year-old kid never looked back, until his retirement from baseball on Monday at age 40.
Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez officially retired from the team that gave him his start this week, signing a one-day contract to go out with a last bang rather than a whimper.
Pudge was a mainstay in Ranger Red for 13 seasons, the catcher for such stars as Nolan Ryan, Kenny Rogers, and John Wetteland, members of a group he will likely join in the Rangers team Hall of Fame.
After winning the 1999 AL MVP, after a string of All-Star selections, gold gloves and silver slugger awards, Pudge was gone by 2003.
But he was not gone from baseball. He won a World Series with the Marlins, took the Tigers there a few seasons later, then journeyed like Gaylord Perry until coming back briefly in 2009.
We all expected him to retire then, he was a Ranger again, he belonged to us. But after the season he was gone, catching in Washington until hanging up the spikes.
Imagine if he would have stayed, and imagine if the elephant in the room had never surfaced.
Picture the day that Ivan Rodriguez, the greatest catcher in Major League history, retired from HIS club. The man who had been the face of the franchise since Nolan Ryan retired, the man who the ballpark was built for, calling it quits after leading his team to the 2011 World Series were they won, a series where the game 6 meltdown never happened.
Picture him announcing on national TV his intent to retire while hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy over his head.
And, picture a Pudge who was 100 percent without a doubt beyond speculation. (No, the Mitchell Report never named him, the only thing that has stuck was the word of Jose Canseco, the same man who went from superstar to laughingstock.)
The Pudge in our imagination never said “Only God Knows,” about his steroids use, and the Pudge in our minds took all kinds of questions at his Monday afternoon press conference, where he talked about how great of a day it will be to go into Cooperstown smiling that boyish smile and wearing the familiar ‘T’ on his cap.
Back to reality, Only God knows now for sure if Cooperstown will come calling for our once great catcher.
A friend talked about how Rodriguez was his hero, how he thought Pudge was the greatest ever… until.
And as 33-year-old me sat in the retirement ceremony Monday, I wanted so badly for 12-year-old me to have the Pudge of my dreams, I wanted the Rangers to have that guy, and I want my son’s heroes to do the same when it comes time for them to retire years from now.
But sometimes reality can be cruel. Why? Only God knows for sure.