ARLINGTON, Texas Ivan Rodriguez was 19 when the Texas Rangers promoted the fresh-faced catcher with a cannon for an arm to the major leagues midway through the 1991 season.
He already had an AL MVP award, 10 Gold Gloves and 10 All-Star appearances when the Rangers let him go 12 seasons later. But there were more Gold Gloves and All-Star games to come, plus a World Series title with Florida in 2003, the year after he left Texas.
Now hes caught more games than anybody else and fittingly, he set the record in Texas.
Rodriguez, now with the Houston Astros, caught his 2,227th game tonight against the Rangers, a night after matching Carlton Fisk a Hall of Fame catcher also nicknamed Pudge.
To be able to play so many games behind the plate, its unbelievable, Rodriguez said. Its been a long time. But Im still feeling the same way (as) when I was 19. I love this game. I love what I do.
That is a lot of squatting, hot summer games behind the mask and foul tips off the body.
Its an incredible accomplishment, said Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who caught 1,395 games for the Dodgers from 1980-92. The erosion rate of catchers has really accelerated because of the demands of the position. Those catchers who have caught a long time and maintained their skills is extraordinary.
When Rodriguez was introduced before his first at-bat Wednesday, he got a standing ovation, like he did Tuesday after homering for the Astros only run. He stepped out of the batters box to acknowledge the Rangers fans.
A throwing error by Rodriguez in the bottom of the first led to a run. He committed another in the fifth, only the sixth time in his career with two errors. The last two-error game was in 2004, nine years after the previous one.
Rodriguez was promoted from Double-A to make his debut with the Rangers on June 20, 1991, at the Chicago White Sox when Fisk was the opposing catcher. One of Rodriguezs teammates was Nolan Ryan, though the Hall of Famer who pitched a record 27 seasons wasnt on the mound that day.
I had no expectations of him being the caliber of player he turned out to be. ... It didnt take long to see how quick a feet he had and how good an arm he had, said Ryan, now the Rangers president.
Fisk, who played for Boston (1969-80) and the White Sox (1981-93), made his final appearance behind the plate on June 22, 1993, against Texas. The younger Pudge made his 263rd career appearance that night.
Rodriguez caught 1,426 games in Texas, second in club history to Jim Sundbergs 1,495, and was part of the Rangers three AL West championship teams in 1996, 1998 and 1999.