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Julio Rodríguez, another burgeoning star in Seattle

At the end of each warm-up, before starting an inning at center, Julio Rodríguez takes a break. He scans the crowd and selects a direction to send a souvenir to the stands.

SEATTLE (AP) — At the end of each warm-up before the start of an inning to defend midfield, Julio Rodríguez takes a break. He scans the crowd in T-Mobile Park and chooses a direction to send a souvenir ball to the stands.

“I wish I could just give everyone who comes out on the field a nice souvenir,” said Rodríguez. “But unfortunately it’s not like that.”

Don’t fret. Doing his part in providing souvenirs and highlights for Mariners fans, Rodríguez makes the statement that there appears to be a burgeoning star in the Pacific Northwest.

Welcome to the J-Rod show.

When Rodríguez was included in the Mariners’ roster for opening day, it was a sign that the future had arrived ahead of schedule. And after a bumpy first few weeks, Rodríguez, 21, is thriving and proving he got to the majors on time.

He was AL Rookie of the Month for consecutive months. Last week he was AL Player of the Week. He could be the midseason leader for AL Rookie of the Year. And he could make himself an All-Star in a matter of weeks.

No question, Rodríguez is having fun doing it. The bat turns and shuffles for third place after long home runs. The grins after claiming another stolen base. The fans are demanding that Rodríguez throw them a ball before the start of each inning.

“I have to play like this. … That’s how I learned how to play the game. That’s how I fell in love with the game,” said Rodríguez. “I think it’s pretty important for me to just be able to enjoy what I’m doing. I do this because I love doing it and it’s a pretty cool sport. Being able to play with joy is pretty important to me, I think.”

It is strikingly reminiscent of another young star who once patrolled midfield in Seattle. And while it’s unfair to make huge comparisons between what Ken Griffey Jr. was and what Rodríguez could become, there are striking similarities.

In the first 81 games of his rookie season, Griffey hit .282 with .809 OPS, 13 homers, 13 doubles and 43 RBIs.

Rodríguez played in his 82nd game in Seattle’s 6-2 win at San Diego on Tuesday. His numbers at the end of the day: .277 batting average with .823 OPS, 15 home runs, 16 doubles and 43 RBIs. Rodríguez didn’t hit his first home run until May 1 in Miami and has played 15 in his past 62 games.

Rodríguez is the only player in league history to have 15 or more homers, 15 or more doubles, and 20 or more stolen bases in the first 81 games of his career.

In addition to what Rodríguez does at the plate, he learns midfield in no time. He was primarily a corner fielder in the minors.

“He’s playing the game hard. Playing the game right,” said Seattle outfielder Jesse Winker. “Young kid does so many things right. Great kid.”

It’s not meant to be as easy as Rodríguez seems to be making his rookie-season look look like. He was AL Rookie of the Month for May and June. Last week, he hit .360 with three home runs and 1.273 OPS in seven games to be named AL Player of the Week.

As his number mounts, so does enthusiasm for Houston’s Jeremy Pena and Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. as favorites for midseason AL Rookie of the Year. But Rodríguez’s numbers are so good that his case for being on the AL All-Star team has grown stronger.

When Rodríguez landed in Los Angeles, he would be joining a very select company. Since the start of the expansion era in 1961, only 14 position players under the age of 22 have been named All-Stars in their rookie seasons. Among the names on this list: Albert Pujols, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Tim Raines, Johnny Bench and Rod Carew.

Does he belong in the game?

“I don’t know. I just feel like I belong up here and I’m doing the best I can,” said Rodríguez. “It will take care of itself.”

The season didn’t start that way for Rodríguez. His first few weeks were tests of patience and questions about whether he was really ready to be in the majors. He was plagued by called third strikes that came up outside of the strike zone and built up frustration with calls that didn’t go his way.

But Rodríguez remained steadfast in his approach. He didn’t change and started chasing pitches that weren’t strikes. He showed a maturity not often associated with a 21-year-old. His batting average dropped to .136 on April 21, just 12 games after his debut. In the 70 games since, Rodríguez has batted .301.

“It was difficult for him from the start,” said Seattle coach Scott Servais. “And I learned a lot about his commitment to his plan, his process, whatever you want to call it. He didn’t waver. And it’s really unique for players not to falter. I don’t care how much experience they have in this league.”

https://www.king5.com/article/sports/mlb/mariners/julio-rodrguez-another-burgeoning-star-in-seattle/281-def7821c-d26b-4dd0-95c0-cb45300c8600 Julio Rodríguez, another burgeoning star in Seattle

Emma Bowman

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