Even though Ivan Rodriguez didn't want to overstate his role in helping reshape the Detroit Tigers top to bottom on Saturday night, it's clear that his arrival ushered in a new era of positivity with the team.
Prior to Rodriguez arriving in 2004, the Tigers hadn't wooed a major free agent in a decade. The team hadn't made headlines on or off the field aside from losing. Then, that winter, Rodriguez decided to sign with the team, buying into Dave Dombrowski's vision for creating a World Series contender.
"I did it, I did it because I wanted to," Rodriguez said of joining the the beleaguered Tigers when he did. "A lot of media from Puerto Rico, media from Miami were telling me 'what are you doing? You're going to Detroit, a team that lost 100 games the year you won the World Series?' I said yeah."
"I always say this, it's one player it takes to open doors for others, and basically that's what I did."
Quickly, the success Dombrowski had promised Rodriguez started coming. Though Rodriguez and the Tigers would struggle through the next two seasons, magic came in 2006 when Detroit hired Jim Leyland and caught magic in a bottle en-route to the World Series
Though he enjoyed many, it remains Rodriguez's favorite memory from his five year career in the Motor City.
"I gotta tell you 2006, when we made the playoffs," Rodriguez said. "We started the playoffs, being able to beat the (New York) Yankees that year, and then when we faced the Oakland A's, sweeping Oakland in four games, they always got a good team and have great pitching," Rodriguez said.
Arguably, though Rodriguez maintains he was one man, the success of the Tigers might not have been possible without his leap of faith. A year after he signed, Magglio Ordonez joined him. It was Ordonez who slugged the home run which sent Detroit to the World Series. After that, the seeds were planted for bigger moves, such as trades for Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, the signing of Victor Martinez and recently, a deal for David Price.
Rodriguez credited Dombrowski for being a great general manager and anticipating his team's needs. "To me, I respect (Dombrowski) very much as the president, GM, CEO, because he knows baseball. When you have someone who knows baseball, he knows what the players need and what the manager and coaching staff needs," he said.
Those needs would never be able to get filled or be a reality without players willing to play and take notice of winning. The fiery passion of Rodriguez turned a new generation of players on to Detroit, and the thought that the city wasn't merely Hockeytown, but a first-class baseball town as well. The fact is, since Rodriguez and company laid those seeds nearly a decade ago, it's made Dombrowski's job much easier since.
Still, despite his significant role as a tipping point in recent Tigers history, the one they call Pudge remains humble to the end, as most would expect.
"Since I got here in 2004, it was a very good five years that I played in this organization, so many good players, hall-of-famers that play in this organization," Rodriguez said. "Myself, being able to put that English D on my chest and wear that uniform for five years, it's an honor to wear that uniform for five years."
Many would argue that honor is still all theirs, seeing as Rodriguez's lasting tribute to the organization is the winning atmosphere that still permeates Comerica Park long after his departure.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.
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