Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hot Damn! Pudge is a Yankee!

Much to my joy and happiness, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez was traded to my beloved New York Yankees today! Pudge has been my favorite player for the past 7-8 years or so, and I'm thrilled to no end about him donning the Yankees pinstripes tomorrow as they square off against the Los Angeles Angels...of Anaheim (whatever).

I have been a baseball fan since I was about 10 years old, and I have always had an affinity for catchers. Other than Cal Ripken Jr., my favorite players have traditionally played behind the plate, e.g. Thurman Munson, Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, Jorge Posada, and Ivan Rodriguez to name a few.

With all due respect to the other position players, I admire the catchers because I believe their position is the most mentally and intellectually challenging. Catchers use a lot of psychology, especially when dealing with their pitchers. They must know each pitcher's strengths and weaknesses, both mechanically and mentally. They must know how to extract the best possible performance from that pitcher. He is a cheerleader when the pitcher is on; he is an encourager when the pitcher is off. The catcher must also be familiar with strengths and weaknesses of the hitters on each of the opposing teams...he must know how to pitch to any given hitter and then call for those pitches.

The position of catcher is, by far, the most physically grueling---you have to be tough to be a catcher. Not only are you squatting up and down for about half of the game, but you are also wearing several pounds of protective equipment while you're doing it. In any given game, a catcher has 100+ balls moving in excess of 90 mph popping into the palm of his hand, which is protected only by a thick layer of leather. A catcher must use his body to block unruly pitches that miss their mark. Perhaps the most physically harrowing aspect of a catcher's list of duties is to block home plate at all costs. Do not let the runner score. This means blocking it with nothing more than your body. Who says baseball is a non-contact sport?

I love how gutsy and passionate Pudge is when he plays baseball. Here is a picture of Pudge blocking the plate during game 5 of the 2003 National League Championship Series in Miami. This is one of my favorite Pudge moments! J.T. Snow of the Giants bowled Pudge over in an attempt to cross the plate. Pudge tumbled head over heels, but he tagged Snow and held onto the ball in the process. This moment marked the end of the NLCS, because the Marlins clinched the game and the National League Championship with this play! I watched it live on television, and when I saw Pudge pop up and show the ump that he still had the ball, it endeared him to me even more.

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