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(Photo: Jim Evans Congratulating ABUA Member Willie Rodriguez)
Longtime ABUA member and internationally distinguished umpire Willie Rodriguez was honored at the recent Puerto Rico Umpire Academy (PRUA) clinic, held on October 9 – 14. Rodriguez worked professional baseball in the United States and internationally, including working the Olympics. This year’s clinic was dedicated in honor of Rodriguez in recognition of his dedication and desire in helping to improve the level of umpiring at every level, both amateur and professional.
PRUA’s president Jose Colls said, “The dedication of this year’s clinic was a very easy choice. Willie Rodriguez donates so much to the umpires in Puerto Rico. He always gives his time to help at clinics and is always proud of where he has come from.” At the press conference kicking off the 2008 PRUA Caribbean Classic in conjunction with the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, Rodriguez stated he was, “Surprised and wasn’t expecting anything like that." Speaking about the PRUA event, Rodriguez said, “This clinic is very exciting! Watching all these kids starting a new career is great and I am happy they have a clinic to go to and learn.”
The clinic hosted close to 90 students from all over Puerto Rico in San Juan’s major baseball facility, Hiram Bithorn Stadium; the same stadium where the 2006 World Baseball Classic games were held, along with the Major League Baseball games played in Puerto Rico. “Baseball is the number one sport in Puerto Rico. Most of the guys want to improve in umpiring, not become a pro umpire”, said Rodriguez about the attendees. Rodriguez added, “They want to be better not only in umpiring, but as citizens in their community. They see umpiring as a way to give back and contribute in their community.”
In attendance this year were 10 players from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy. All said they were very impressed with the training. They didn’t know much about umpiring, just how to play. Colls said, “Now they understand how difficult umpiring really is, and that this has opened their eyes to our job.” One of those players told Rodriguez, “If playing doesn’t work out, umpiring is where he wants to go.”
During the last Olympics held in Beijing, Rodriguez was honored to work one of his most memorable games. That game was the Cuba vs. USA Olympic matchup in which he worked the plate. “You could feel the tension between the two teams, politically and just as a real rivalry. I’ve worked a lot of games over the years: Caribbean World Series, pro ball in the States, championships in Puerto Rico, winter ball, etc., but nothing compares to the intensity of the Cuba/USA game, and the intensity of the fans.”, Rodriguez said.