K-Rod reports to camp, worried about Venezuela
Brewers reliever was delayed due to political unrest occurring in his hometown
PHOENIX -- Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez eagerly immersed himself in the monotony of Spring Training on Saturday after enduring recent weeks at the center of Venezuela's political unrest.
Rodriguez's homeland has been the scene of violent protests over the past month, particularly in the capital of Caracas. He signed a one-year contract with the Brewers on Feb. 7, but his home is in the heart of opposition-controlled territory in Caracas, and for four or five days, Rodriguez said, he could not leave "because they were burning tires and they closed the roads." His security detail, former policemen, eventually devised a strategy to get him out.
Rodriguez acquired a work visa this week and arrived in Phoenix on Friday. He reported to camp for the first time on Saturday morning.
"My girl and my two kids are here with me," he said. "Eventually sometime this week, depending on how things go down there, I'm going to fly the rest of [my family]. Right now I've got to settle in here first. But that's definitely what I have in mind. … I don't want to have distractions being on the field and thinking, 'What are they doing? Is everything all right at home?' I don't want that distraction. The main thing I want is their safety. That's the most important thing to me."
The situation at home, he said, is scary.
"I have never seen so many protests, so much division," Rodriguez said. "I hope they can come up with a resolution and everything can get back to peace. … There is nothing impossible in this world. I hope they can sit down, because the only people who are suffering are the Venezuelan people. Nobody else."
Considering the circumstances, Rodriguez considered himself lucky to secure a visa the same day he applied. He is already two weeks late and worried that another two-week delay might have impacted his readiness for Opening Day.
This is Rodriguez's third stint with the Brewers. He arrived the night of the 2011 All-Star Game in a surprise trade between the Brewers and Mets, and remained with the Brewers for 2012 after accepting an arbitration offer. Rodriguez re-signed for 2013 on a Minor League contract but was traded to the Orioles in July.
Now he's back again, set to earn a $3.25 million base salary plus $550,000 in incentives. Rodriguez said he chose Milwaukee over three or four other offers.
"For some reason, I knew that I wasn't saying bye at all [when I was traded to Baltimore]," Rodriguez said. "I was just saying, 'See you guys later.' I know where I need to be, where I want to be. It was a no-brainer for me when the decision came to get back here once again."
Rodriguez, who turned 32 last month, owns a 3.15 ERA in 134 Brewers appearances, including a 1.09 ERA in 25 games last year. He will team with fellow right-hander Brandon Kintzler as a setup tandem for closer Jim Henderson, will be counted on to lead a relatively inexperienced bullpen corps and will probably be the Brewers' first alternative to close games if needed.
The team's $50 million deal with free-agent starter Matt Garza garnered bigger headlines, but Henderson and Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy were among the players who lauded the less-ballyhooed addition of Rodriguez as just as important.
"I hated facing him, but I love catching him," Lucroy said. "He doesn't make excuses, and I love that about him."
Said Henderson: "I think he was that final piece of the team that we needed."
With 304 career saves, Rodriguez is tied with Jeff Montgomery for 21st all time. Only Joe Nathan (341) has more saves among active players.
Rodriguez has learned some things during his past two and a half seasons as a setup man.
"Patience, patience, patience. More patience," he said. "I know what I am capable of doing. I know what I've got to do. Just be ready when my time comes, and don't let it go. Everything came so quick [when he broke through with the World Series champion Angels in 2002], I didn't know patience. Everything was right there. When you take a step out a little bit and you don't get much respect or what you want because you've been doing that for a while, you learn that: patience. You have to sit down and wait for my opportunity."