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Ivan Rodriguez

With 14 All-Star appearances, 13 Gold Gloves, a Most Valuable Player award and a World Series ring, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez has more than earned his spot in Cooperstown as one of the best catchers of all time. In this excerpt of They Call Me Pudge, Rodriguez explains what becoming a Hall of Famer means to him.
The night before the Hall of Fame vote was announced in January 2017, that was one of the most anxious nights of my life. Those were a hard couple of days. I can't even explain how stressed out I was. I don't sleep much as is, but it was nonexistent that week. I was up for like 72 straight hours. The lone upside was having time to reflect, having time to think about baseball being the best game on the planet and all these extraordinary catchers who came before me. You cannot beat that.

They Call Me Pudge Book CoverI have so much respect for those great catchers who had to wait for induction. Unbelievable names like Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, Mickey Cochrane, and Yogi Berra. Before he passed away, Yogi saw me a long time ago when I was playing in Yankee Stadium. During batting practice he looked at me in the eyes and told me, "You're going to be a Hall of Famer." That was huge. That gave me chills. I couldn't tell you anything about the game, but I walked out of the locker room that night smiling because of what Yogi Berra told me.
Berra's teammate Mickey Mantle, who lived in Dallas most of his life, wore No. 7 for the New York Yankees. I love the No. 7, but I didn't ask for it. In the minor leagues, I used No. 10 and then I was No. 55 when I was put on the 40-man roster. But the number that I really, really loved was No. 10.
Anyway, when they called me up in June 1991, I was 19 and I wasn't going to be some cocky kid demanding a certain number or anything. I barely spoke English, so I took what they gave me, which was No. 7. The next year my plan was to ask for a new number, No. 10, but veteran infielder Dickie Thon had joined the team, and he was wearing it. So I just said, "Okay, I'll stick with No. 7." Dickie was gone by the next year, but I said, "No, I'm going to stay with No. 7." It's a lucky number for some people. I feel like I didn't want to have a two-digit number on my back anyway. I'm not too tall, so two numbers on the back is not going to look right on me.
I tried to sleep the night before the Hall of Fame vote and I at least got into the bed for an hour or two. I woke up early and did my workout like I always do, staying with my routine. I spent most of the day after that at home, not watching any TV, trying to stay away from what was happening. A lot of people were texting me, and I was texting them back, but I had to tell them, "Look, you have to wait until the afternoon."
Then we left the house at about 4:00 or 4:15 to go to my friend's house about five minutes away. And that's where I was, waiting for the call. Dereck was there; my wife was there; my friend and his wife, Mike and Melissa Allen, were there; and my agent, Catalina Villegas, was there. And ESPN was there with me, too. I was doing an interview with them when I got the phone call.

Ivan Rodriguez Wins World SeriesHall president Jeff Idelson and Baseball Writers' Association of America secretary-treasurer Jack O'Connell congratulated me over the phone for becoming a member of the 2017 Hall of Fame. I received information about the logistics of getting to the ballpark and then flying to New York that night. Commissioner Rob Manfred even called to congratulate me.    

We got on the plane at about 9:30 pm. It was me, my wife, my son, and Catalina and it was past midnight when we landed. Then we had breakfast in the morning with everyone followed by a press conference. From there we went to the MLB Network studios and then we had a very small, private dinner after that.

I went to Cooperstown, New York, three weeks later. I've been there four times now. We walked through the museum again, and I was shown where my plaque is going to be. When I retired, yes, I was thinking about having my plaque in Cooperstown. During my career, though, I didn't think about being in the Hall of Fame. Instead I was thinking about having great years and having a great career. And then the career took me to another level, and that level was to be in the Hall of Fame. But to be honest, I didn't think I was going to get in on the first ballot. I really didn't. Not that I didn't deserve it, I just didn't think it was going to happen. It was a gift because there aren't too many first-ballot Hall of Famers, especially for catchers.
Being elected on the first try meant even more knowing that Tim Raines waited 10 years and Jeff Bagwell waited seven years. That's a long time. So, getting into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot was a pretty cool thing, and I'm very grateful. My phone went crazy after the vote. At one point I had almost a thousand text messages from friends and former players and I answered every single one of them. I'm still getting some texts and e-mails. I appreciate all of them.
I even heard from Johnny Bench. I got messages from Jim Leyland and a bunch of other managers that I played for, former players, active players, superstars of today. Almost the entire Rangers team and coaching staff called or texted me. Every single text meant so much, and everyone was very happy that I got in.

Ivan Rodriguez

It's been a great experience, and I think it's a great achievement to be in the Hall of Fame. It changes pretty much everything, having "Hall of Famer" next to my name forever. Everywhere I go now, it's not going to be "Pudge, the great baseball player." Now it's going to be "Pudge, the Hall of Famer." It will also be nice to join Nolan Ryan and Johnny Oates as the only people to have our jersey numbers retired by the Rangers. And, of course, Jackie Robinson, whose No. 42 is retired across baseball. Every time I sit there at the ballpark, I can look up and see my last name and number on display. They are going to retire it shortly after I am inducted in Cooperstown. It's going to be quite the year for me.
I went to Puerto Rico after the Hall of Fame results were announced, and that's where I saw my dad for the first time since the vote. It was great. We got to the airport, and all the family was there. They let them come past the gate, so everyone was waiting for me when I got off the plane. Everything they did in Puerto Rico was very organized, which helped me get to the places I needed to be and do the things I needed to do. I probably took a photo with every resident of Puerto Rico that week I was down there and I was happy to do so.
My family is still very happy and very emotional. Obviously, I am, too. It's a great thing, especially since I had two parents who were with me -- day in and day out -- since Day One. When my brother and I were growing up, my parents would practice with us every Tuesday and Thursday and then be with me and my brother the whole day Saturday. One would go to see my brother play, and the other would come to see me. And then when the second game started, they would switch. Even when I was playing in the big leagues, my dad would come three or four times a year and stay with me for a couple weeks. Sometimes he would even travel with the team, and my mom did, too. They love baseball. And I love them so much. They paved the way for my success.
I was reading some of the stories after I was voted into the Hall of Fame. Yes, as much as athletes and coaches say they don't read stuff in the media, most of them usually do, though I wasn't obsessed like some were during my playing days. I felt like I had a good relationship with the press. I talked to them whenever they asked me questions. And I really tried to be honest, too. They have a job to do just like me, and I respected that.
Anyway, one of the constant topics of the stories I was reading was my ever-present smile when I was playing baseball. You don't always see that, I guess, but here's the thing: I wasn't conscious of my smiling. I guess I was just happy. I was in my happy place, playing this game I so respected and adored.

I want to make sure this is stated correctly, so for starters, I have the utmost admiration for every team I spent time with in my career. The Florida (now Miami) Marlins allowed me to let the baseball world know that I wasn't on the downside of my career, and we were able to shock everyone by winning the World Series. Those few weeks of the 2003 postseason were the most rewarding of my career. The Detroit Tigers gave me a chance to help turn around that proud franchise, the opportunity to play for Jim Leyland -- one of the best to ever manage -- and to return to the Fall Classic. The honor was all mine, Detroit.

Ivan Rodriguez

The New York Yankees let me play for that organization, for those fans, and there is no higher honor the game has than to play in the home pinstripes at Yankee Stadium. The Houston Astros took a chance on an aging catcher, and I gave them my best effort. I worked as hard that season as I did as a rookie. They love their baseball in Houston. The Washington Nationals let me finish my career with that great group of guys, work with the younger players, and see the city fall in love with baseball all over again after not having a team for so long. That was a lasting thrill, which will stay with me forever.

My heart, though, belongs with the Texas Rangers. They signed me. I spent 14-plus years of my professional life with them, I grew up there, and I am proud to wear their cap forever in the Hall of Fame. The Rangers always treated me first class, and I did everything within my power to return the gesture and carry myself first class. I hope the team and the fans believe I accomplished just that.

-- Excerpted by permission from They Call Me Pudge: My Life Playing The Game I Love by Ivan Rodriguez With Jeff Sullivan. Copyright (c) 2017. Published by Triumph Books. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. Follow Ivan Rodriguez on Twitter @Pudge_Rodriguez. Follow Jeff Sullivan on Twitter @SullyBaldHead.