Following Puerto Rican hero Iván “Pudge” Rogríguez – Extended Interview

Filming several episodes on the island for The Good Road was not only an honor, it was inspirational and fun. Following Puerto Rican heroes like Major League Hall of Famer Iván “Pudge” Rogríguez across the island was transformational.

Craig: This was Maria, the big one.

Pudge: Yeah, yeah, the big one. I mean, the stadium. You see all the lightning, you know, everything regarding the lights, the poles. I mean, the only thing that that stood was the cement construction. Everything else was just destroyed. The field was completely covered with water. It just destroyed the complete stadium.

Earl: This was pulled out by the wind, right?

Pudge: Yeah.

Earl: And Pudge was saying that this some of these things are actually inside the stadium.

Raul: They were inside the stadium where you see the the base. It just went out of the base.

Pudge: This is two of the main towers. They used to have it here in the field. And, oh, this is probably 40 years old, 40 or 50 years old. Very much when the ballpark was built back in the day. And just think about having this. This is still weighs a lot. You know, it just get up in the air and fly away. Here is one of the amazing things that you guys can see how powerful that was. This is one of the base areas. And he can see the all of this is just like like. Like if you take something out of there and go up in the air ..that’s what happens.

Craig: It’s just the wind.

Raul: So imagine my this was the wind was 160 miles an hour, steady and gusty winds over 200. And that was for 12 hours now, nonstop, non-stop, one way and then the other way for 12 hours. And so, like, Raoul just mentioned this ballpark had no roof. Everything was everything was out. The roof was out, and the field was full of water.

Pudge: And not only this ballpark, I mean, the whole island.

Craig: Where were you at the time? Were you here in Cauguas or…

Raul: No, I was. I was in Isla Verde. I was in my apartment. We had shuttles and everything. But it was it was very, very scary. We decided we were the whole family there. We had brought in our daughters. And we just decided everybody to be in one room. And we just stayed there the whole night. We never went to sleep. And it was like, you know, the building was going to be destroyed. It’s incredible. I do have friends in which they left the apartment and they went to the stairs, exit stairs, and they stayed there for ten, 12 hours.

Earl: 160 mile an hour wind. Have you ever caught a pitcher that threw 160?

Pudge: No. But, I catch them at 100 and it’s really coming fast.

Craig: So we’re entering Cauguas Carrillos stadium. You’re the owner of the team. Where Pudge played for many years.

Pudge: Well, I this is what I started my career. I signed professional baseball when I was 16. Yes. I’m with the Texas Rangers and and the team the drafted me in Puerto Rico was I was just just I was in the big league in ’91.  Well, from 91, I played 11, 12 years here every year after 162 game season in the in the U.S.. So I just I live here all the time. And and I was one of those guys that I have great discipline in myself. I wake up in the morning working out, you know, just go do my my training. And then in the afternoon, I come here one, 2:00 in the afternoon and  play at 7:05pm.  It helps my career tremendously in the year that I play. Back in the nineties, a lot of the major league players love to come here and play. You know, they they normally take a few months off and and then in December, they come and play one month here and then they play their playoff. That’s what I did of the last years that I was here playing before that. Before that I came here since day one and start playing.

Craig: So you guys know, I was telling Raul that my wife’s from about a block away.  I was curious with the team. The team. And I watched you play one night with her uncle, like Pudge, but you’re like, hey, hey, hey. I think I was just another face in the crowd, right?

Earl: What does the baseball mean to this community? Because Cauguas.. This is historic, right? This is hallowed ground, this stadium and all of the. Yeah. Everyone who came through here.

Raul: Number one, this is the oldest stadium the stadium was. Inaugurated in 1948. And he took a break after Hurricane Maria.

Pudge: I think is not a better place to come and play than here, because the fans, I mean, can see, you know, they’re very close. You know, even even though there’s a one level stadium, well, look how close it is from the playing field. And Caguas has this a fan base and they always come. It doesn’t matter if we are losing games or winning game, they still they still come over here and enjoying themselves. This is the stadium you’re sitting in in the neighborhood like back here, the oldest.

Earl: The families are right behind here.

Pudge: They’re all coming to the ballpark.

Earl: They can yell from the house and you can hear it, you know.

Pudge: Literally when this is all they are sitting on the top of that fence watching the game, that’s that’s how loyal they are.

Raul: When we retired the number seven of of Ivan “Pudge” a I mean you could not have one person I mean, you remember even even the bombeiros, the fire department would close the the doors and said nobody else, no fires!

Craig: You’re actually you were born in Manatee.

Pudge: I grew up in Vega Baja. I remember that when Raul retired the number and it was a nice event  and  the good thing was it threw the first base backwards. Oh yeah.

Earl: Oh really. Oh, you did the throwdown backwards?

Pudge: I threw it down to second base. All the fans. I was there and I, they didn’t expect me to do that. And I was at the pitching rubber and I just called the catchers and we said, You got to circumvent. When I throw it in there, we it. I was a good manager. I didn’t look bad myself.

Earl: Baseball is such a big deal in Puerto Rico. I guess it is by far the most popular sport. Everyone in the United States or here, whatever grows up with baseball we talk about take me out to the ball and stuff like that. But an experience here in Puerto Rico or here in Caguas is somewhat different, starting with the food, maybe not starting that it maybe and maybe all the way through. What would you get if you come to the Carrillos stadium?

Raul: This is a pizza empanada. This is chicken. And then this is a cheese dog.

Earl: That’s a cheese dog?

Raul: Yeah, that’s a cheese dog.

Pudge: Oh, but pretty good though. Puerto Rican cheese dogs.

Raul: But then we have here pork, and this is huge. Then we have the tostones. Yeah, it’s kind of fritas con tostones There’s also peanuts and all that. So this is all we can try.

Craig: I’m going to do Alcapuria de Carne And what about you guys? What do you want?

Raul: I’ll tell you what, I better have the chicken because of my wife.

Earl: She may see this.

Raul: Then if she sees this, I’m going to be dead. So yeah.

Pudge: I’ll take the carne frita

Raul: This is most probably different from the states from the stadiums. And I think we something different is the 7th inning stretching which I is…

Earl: Seventh inning stretch in the states we say take me out to the ball game.

Raul: Yeah here it’s what it is?

Pudge: Que te parece cholito

Earl: So “Que te parece chorito?” 

Raul: cholito  So that’s, that’s what we have. This is the only team that has that song.

Earl: That’s what I love.

Pudge: When we played that song and we played that song in the seventh inning and right on top of our dugout was a lady that was the number one fan. And she always stood on the top of the dugout.  And she would start dancing and makes everybody get up. Everybody get up and follow what she’s doing.

Pudge: Que te parece? Que te parece cholito?

Pudge: Everybody, everybody standing up and no, seriously, everybody standing up over here and sing at the same time. At the same time, during the between innings.

Raul: That was in the seventh inning.

Pudge: And then they played that. They played that first and then they play the seventh inning stretch. Like they’re really like the normal one, the real.

Earl: That’s what I love about Puerto Rico. Because every town has its own thing. Yeah, Carnival, they have their own mascara you own musica, you have your own art.

Pudge: We have a mascot too

Earl: Yeah. So it’s just very much, you know, this. What is the mascot for the Carrillos?  You bring someone in on a horse.

Raul: Carrillos is what we call the a Carrillos l people, you know, country people, local people.

Earl: Is it feel like a working man’s team or is this like is it like a prima donna, you know, Caguas? Why would you say ?

Pudge: I think Cauguas Carrillos is the rival of all the teams that we play against. We have a big rival with Santurce, a big rival with San Juan. Even Mayagüez . With this club is so, well, famous there. I mean names that they’re in the Hall of Fame plays..

Craig: Name a few of them. Come on.

Raul: Roberto Alomar, Pudge Rodriguez, Roberto Clemente played for the Cauguas Carrillos . Hank Aaron. Mike Schmidt and Sandy Colfax, Alex Cora. Alex Cora played here. He was my manager and my general manager. So Alex is another local hero.

Craig: Raul, when you came in the first time to the stadium after Maria, with all this history, and you saw the the way the stadium looked. What did you think?

Raul: Yeah. Very sad. Very, very sad. And not only because of the stadium, but also the community. It was very tough.

Earl: Did you feel like it was your responsibility because you are part of the heart and soul of this community. So when something happens to the community, you have to you know, you have to respond at some level, right?

Raul: Yes. Yes, it is. And we sat down with the mayor. Yeah. We wanted to be there for the community, but we wanted to do it organized. So the mayor was very helpful in in leading us to be able to go to.

Pudge: To go to the right places.

Raul: In the beginning it was a massive distribution. It was just giving to everybody. But then after that, it was just putting food in in cases and then taking a cases of water.

Pudge: We drive a semis like containers after the center of the island and Raul and I and all the helpers that we have, all employees from his from his company, they all donate their time to go. It’s unbelievable how how hard it is to get to places like that. And then when you when you get there, with water or a bag, you can see that the desperate people. We sometimes we have to just slow slow them down because they don’t have anything.

Earl: Yeah. It’s like their best chance.

Craig: Pudge, where were you in the hurricane?

Pudge: I was I was at home. I was in Florida. My family, my parent was here. And it was scary.  In the beginning, because I couldn’t I couldn’t contact them like for like, say, two, three weeks because no phone. I mean, no power. Everything was shut down and nothing. And so I was trying to communicate with my parents. And the only way I communicate with my parents was I have a friend that works in the government? I worked in the government and he he flew in the helicopter to where my parents live. And then they saw some of them, you know, coming out of the house. And they called me and then they okay.

Craig: So like my wife, there were many Puerto Ricans watching this kind of in horror on the United States side. And like you, we couldn’t communicate. My wife couldn’t communicate to her brother.

Pudge: We flew here three weeks or a month after we were there with this work, you know, like myself and a bunch of celebrities. Ricky Martin,  I think, when we came on the on the plane that JetBlue donated to us. So we flew, you know, like all of us on the plane, with the plane full of, you know, of the supplies. And we land here. And I will never forget this. The pilot, the airport was close. No flights in and out of here. So it was only us able to land and leave the next day. But when we coming to Puerto Rico, the pilot said, I’m going to bring the plane 3000 feet above the island and we’re going to go around the island. So before we landing in San Juan, we we came in from I have 3000 feet and go all the way through to San Juan. And I’m not kidding you. What I saw, it was like, let’s think about a big ball of fire comes through for four, 12 hours and left. That was the only thing I saw. Trees, just like with nothing on. And it looks like, you know, like 12, 15, 20 years, 50 years behind. We went like this, like, you know, from from where we were… We went like 50, 60 years behind.

Raul: They knew more than us.

Craig: Really?

Raul: Because we did not have any communication. So if everything that videos and TV and everything was going to the states, to our people in the States. But here we just could not see. We had to try to get the the old antennas to see if we could get some TV image. You know, but it was very tough.

Pudge: This is one thing that I just wanted to really mention it, and I really mean it. From this man right here, this man right here, right after they went out, they went out to helping people next day. Even though they he was going through some stuff family way. But he went out and bought some generators and go to different places and look for whatever he can find and go to places and helping people. You know, we are good friends, obviously. And he calls me and I quote, I was like, I wonder, what can we do? Let’s do something big for Puerto Rico. So I started doing my my work in the U.S. and Catalina. And we just, you know, I collect a lot of stuff in Dallas, Arlington forward and put it in a warehouse in Miami. I did all that. And then we we bring it over here by containers.  And traveled to receive it here. It was out. The time was kind of tough bringing an end because the poor authorities and all that to bring things out. But he just did it just right away. And basically, since  day one, he was helping and he’s still doing it today. Because even though that three years ago, there is some place is still in the island, but he’s been suffering by the storm.

Raul: I think something important and this is an example that Pudge gave to many famous people, and that there is a need for supplies, but there is also a need to strengthen the mental health of the people. And it’s not the same thing. Then I giving you these supplies, then Pudge  giving these supplies. That’s why I mean, it’s important to get help. But Pudge coming in and going to the mountains and going to the people and giving the cases… You know, I mean, he’s a hero in Puerto Rico. So what are they saying? You know, Pudge came to my house. You know?

Pudge: We didn’t just send it over here. Yeah, we came to the problem and with the supplies and we went we gave it away.

Raul: I mean, baseball is baseball, you know. And Puerto Rico is baseball.  We say that Caguas is baseball. Oh, yeah, that’s one of our sayings.

Pudge: Caguas tastes like baseball.

Raul: Tastes like baseball. That’s what we say. When you go into what Roberto Clemente did for the Latin American players. Well, he keeps on that he’s story. He keeps on Pittsburgh Pirates. They I mean, they came here and we did the same thing with them. A Boston Red Sox through Alex Cora. Yeah, they yeah. Brought in airplanes of supplies and everything. And I say that and it’s incredible to say that in these supplies that we would receive from the States, we would have the cans in which they would say, and it’s tough to say these, but they would say, we are with you, stay strong. So we the it received from our people but also from the American family. We did receive a lot of of supplies for our people. And so I think it was a it was tough, but at the same time, it was a rewarding experience for all people.

Pudge: I learned a lot from that. I left these beautiful island when I was 16 years old. No speaking English, not speaking the language. I went to the United States and I went there for for a purpose, just to become the best that I can be in baseball in my position, which is behind the plate. You know, a lot of challenges, a lot of hours, a lot of hard stuff. Of course. Well, you learn from all those things so you can be a better you can be a better person. And obviously, the language was one of the problems that I have. But the best thing that I have is that I didn’t I wasn’t afraid to speak. I tried to learn as quick as I can because as my position, I can communicate with the pitchers, you know, as clear as possible. So we can be oin the same page. But it was it was a good challenge in my life because like I left because I signed. There’s more that I love. I’m 19 years old. My dream comes true. And I played 21 years in something that I loved. And now, that’s what I that’s what a lot of people, friends of mine and fans know me more. A baseball player, Pudge, the person between the white lines and that comes from home. Yeah, that’s how they raise you and to me. I said, I have three kids, I teach in the same respect. Be nice with everybody. I have a son that played baseball like me. And if you can to him, you can tell how humble he is as far as these things go.

Craig: So family is a very much a major part of Puerto Rico.

Pudge: Puerto Rico is a family, because if you see Puerto Rico is 100 by 35, it’s very small. And I’m going back to when this storm happens. It’s unbelievable how happy we are. That right after… A couple of weeks later, there were people on the street with music, dancing and and having fun. Why? Because that’s that’s the way we are. We are happy people. We we like to have fun. We respect each other. You know, we’re not a kind of, you know, angry type of people here in Puerto Rico. And families are families, you know, Raul has his own family. I got my own family. But we are from Raul. Family is like my family. We are like so so close together is because that’s Puerto Rico.

Craig: I’m part of the family now. All seriously, my Puerto Rican family, they treated me almost from day one like I’m part of the family. And really on behalf of my Puerto Rican family. And I say this without getting emotional. Thank you, Raul. Thank you, Pudge, for what you do for this island, for the people. It’s a it’s a tremendous thing to be with you here.

Pudge: Appreciate that. Did you know that they call him “Flaco”

Craig: Flaco means skinny!

Earl: I love this because Pudge when you come inside, you say hi to everybody. Everyone know you. Everybody. You’re talking about the community and the family and stuff like that. It happens inside the baseball stadium. It happens outside in the community. It happens all over.

Raul: You know, I have been, let’s say, in a restaurant with Pudge and his wife and my wife, and I guess it’s a dinner of three because. But Pudge is always taking pictures.

Pudge: By the way, you know, that Raul and I, we do business together.

Raul: But let me tell you, he said that he went with a dream. And his dream was to, you know, be the best player. Well, I’ll tell you something. He got the dream because he is the best catcher ever in Baseball Hall of Fame. And something interesting about Puerto Rico and baseball is is that I mean, we are 3.2 million people in the island. And we have, and I am proud to say this, the best right fielder in the game is Roberto Clemente. The best second baseman is Robert Alomar. And the best catcher is Pudge Rodriguez. We have nine positions, three positions, and maybe it could be discussed. But let’s say maybe in some of them they could say they’re not the best, but they are one of the best. And Puerto Ricans, three positions and then we haven’t talked about Edgar Martinez as a designated hitter is.  One of the best. So that’s why we say culture of Puerto Rico starts with baseball.

Pudge: Hall of Fame is Puerto Rican and we’ve got the most Hall of Famer by state in baseball.

Earl: So how do you say it in Spanish? Caguas tastes like baseball.

Raul: Caguas sabe de beisbal. And that’s it. We always.

Earl: I can’t wait till you guys get it open again.

Raul: You’re invited. Invited to be here in the opening.

Earl: Thank you guys for inspiring everybody.