Saturday, June 12, 2004

Pudge faces former Marlins teammates



The Associated Press

DETROIT - After greeting Ivan Rodriguez on Friday, Florida Marlins manager Jack McKeon had one simple request of his former catcher.

"We said we loved each other and we talked about how much fun we had together last year," McKeon said. "And then I told him that if he really cared about me, he'd go 0-for-12 this weekend."

Rodriguez's affection for McKeon doesn't go quite that far.

"I told him that wasn't going to happen," the 10-time All-Star said with a grin. "Well, it might - you never know - but not on purpose."

Rodriguez, who helped lead Florida to a surprising World Series title last fall, signed a $40 million, four-year contract with the Detroit Tigers in the offseason. Before his first game against the Marlins on Friday night, he spent much of batting practice chatting with his former teammates.

"That was really nice," Rodriguez said. "I was glad to get to see everyone. It might have been nice to have this series (in Florida) so I could see the fans and go home for three days, but this is good."

After the get-together, though, he was thinking of ways to help beat Florida. "I'm not a Marlin anymore - I'm a Tiger," said Rodriguez, who leads his new team with a .350 batting average and 42 RBIs. "If I can think of anything from the pitchers, I'm going to tell my teammates. That's the way it is.

"We are friends outside the field, but in the field, we are not friends."

Last year, Rodriguez hit .297 with 16 homers and 85 RBIs in the regular season, then batted .328 with 17 RBIs in 17 postseason games. He was the MVP of the NL championship series against the Chicago Cubs.

"He's a future Hall of Famer, and he was a very, very important part of our club last year," McKeon said. "I follow him every day in the boxscores."

One of Rodriguez's teammates last season, Juan Pierre, enjoyed the reunion. "It's always good to see somebody that you went to battle with," Pierre said. "It's a little weird to see him on the other side, but that's baseball."

As a player whose career is built around speed, Pierre was also thinking about Rodriguez's strong arm.

"I know that he's going to be trying to pick me off, and that I'll be trying to run on him," Pierre said. "It's going to be fun."

McKeon previously questioned Rodriguez's decision to leave the World Series champions to sign with a team coming off an AL-record 119 losses, but he backed away from that stance Friday. "I hated to see him leave, but I didn't have any control over where he went," McKeon said. "I think he will be a tremendous asset to the Tigers."




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