Texas Rangers

Rangers fans give back to Pudge with trip to Hall

This one-stoplight village isn’t easy to reach.

Fly to Syracuse or Albany and drive 90 minutes, or fly to New York or Hartford and drive twice as long.

Or make the 3,000-mile round trip in an RV — pulling an orange Jeep.

Those were the itineraries facing many who came to see Ivan Rodriguez, 12 seasons (plus six weeks in 2009) a Texas Rangers player, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

A wide cross-section of Rangers fans made the journey to see Rodriguez enter into baseball immortality Sunday as the 52nd player elected for enshrinement in his first year on the ballot.

That’s how deeply Pudge touched North Texans, ones who had been watching the Rangers since before he debuted in 1991 and ones who hadn’t even been born when he launched into his wonderful career.

“Pudge is the all-time greatest Ranger there ever was,” said Tom Geier, who drove from Carrollton with daughter Cindy. “He’s the first true Ranger in the Hall of Fame. I consider him over Nolan Ryan and any others who played for the Rangers. I think he’s the greatest catcher. I think he’s better than Johnny Bench.”

Rodriguez twice saluted Rangers fans during his speech, which was filled with humor and emotion and was easily the best of the five given. He was prepared to recognize Adrian Beltre for his 3,000th career hit, but the speech ended about 10 minutes before Beltre collected it with a double.

Rodriguez said his speech would be around eight minutes. Oh, he got there.

Recognizing the fans, though, was a priority.

“I wanted to thank all the fans for the Rangers for all the support, day in and day out, for my whole career and for supporting the team, day in and day out,” Rodriguez said.

“I did it for you guys. I did my best every single day to put a good show for you on the field. That’s why you saw this passion I always had, this happiness I always had playing the game. I always protected the game and played the game hard, and I did it for all of you because you are the best baseball fans.”

The Rangers discovered Rodriguez in 1987 when he was 15 during a tryout in Puerto Rico, signed him at age 16 and brought him to the major leagues when he was 19. He never returned to the minors.

Among catchers, Rodriguez is the all-time leader in games (2,553), games caught (2,427), hits (2,844), runs (1,354), doubles (572), extra-base hits (934) and total bases (4,451).

His 13 Gold Gloves are a record for a catcher, three more than Bench, and Rodriguez was the 1999 American League MVP as he helped lead the Rangers to their third AL West title in four years.

“We watched him grow up with the Rangers, and his talent as a catcher was phenomenal,” said Ken Reid, of Chandler. “Even at 19, he was able to throw people out from the crouch position. It was amazing. He was the Rangers’ icon. The fact that he started here with us, I’m so glad they let him come back and retire with us. It’s obvious his heart was with us.”

Reid was joined at the ceremony by wife Eileen, son Preston and daughter Allison, who was in the plans but not yet in this world for Rodriguez’s first few seasons. The same goes for Geier’s daughter, Cindy, born in 1992.

Preston Reid had also just been born.

“I knew he was [Dad’s] favorite player, so if it was his favorite player, there’s something special about him,” Preston said. “He was something special as a catcher.”

Rick Webster, from Arlington, and daughter Natalie, an Arlington native who works for a newspaper in Virginia, met in Washington D.C., flew to Syracuse, N.Y., and headed here. Rick was raised in upstate New York but had never been to Cooperstown.

He has been a Rangers season-ticket holder since the Arlington Stadium days.

“He’s been bringing me to baseball games ... ,” Natalie started.

“I raised her on the Rangers,” Dad finished.

Natalie, the Reid kids and Cindy Geier weren’t unlike others in the crowd. Kayla Stanford, a swimming coach at Waco Midway High School, and her husband, John, grew up during the Rangers’ first playoff runs in 1996, 1998 and 1999.

Rodriguez was the name they knew as one of the club’s star players — along with Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro and Rusty Greer.

“Pudge was one of the first Rangers that I always knew his name when we started going to games,” Cindy said. “He was always there.”

The Geiers became fast friends with a mother-daughter-daughter team with roots in Fort Worth. Only Mica Maddox still lives in Fort Worth, with 79-year-old mom Neva in Amarillo and sister Jeri in Dalhart.

The trio decided to squeeze a trip to Cooperstown into their vacation to the Northeast. Their driving vacation to the Northeast.

“Well, he’s a Texas Ranger,” said Neva, who lived in Fort Worth from 1942 to 1974.

“We’re here for Mom, and it’s on the bucket list,” said Jeri, who before the trip locked her eyes on an unreserved nearby campsite. “One day I drove 660 miles in the 40-foot RV. We had to get here. You do what you have to do to see Pudge.”

Rodriguez also touched baseball fans in his native Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican flag was waiving proudly before, during and after the ceremony, and many fans were wearing hats and jerseys representing the Puerto Rico entry into the World Baseball Classic.

Eduard Kildare, who noted he had an Irish grandfather, was born in Puerto Rico but has lived in New Jersey for nearly five years. He and friend Santiago Zamora, a Cuban, made the drive here with Kildare’s uncle, who flew in from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to attend.

“Pudge is everything,” Kildare said. “He’s a great example for kids and the new generations. He worked hard and never used drugs. He sets the example.”

That’s how Pudge touched fans in his home country and Rangers fans in North Texas.