State College Spikes

State College Spikes follow the faith of their leader

State College Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez watches his players during the Sunday, July 10, 2016 game against the Auburn Doubledays.
State College Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez watches his players during the Sunday, July 10, 2016 game against the Auburn Doubledays. adrey@centredaily.com

Johnny Rodriguez may be in the wrong profession.

Not that there is anything wrong with his baseball knowledge or managerial abilities. He does pretty well on the diamond and in the dugout.

But he could make good money as a motivational speaker.

Saturday night, after the State College Spikes had beaten the Auburn Doubledays 10-3 as they celebrated one of their biggest fans in Josiah Viera, the Spikes manager was asked what Viera means to the team.

The answer was rather standard at first, but nearly 10 minutes later, anyone listening would have been ready to go into battle with Rodriguez.

I was wishing I had him as a coach somewhere along the way.

The summary of the long and winding, and incredibly animated, soliloquy was to enjoy the moment, follow our dreams, love each other and serve God.

But there was so very much more.

Viera, a 12-year-old boy who loves the Spikes and is loved by the team and fans, suffers from Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, which causes premature aging to his frail, 3-foot-tall, 20-pound body. But despite his daily struggles in fighting the ailment, Viera finds so much joy at the ballpark.

“(Viera is) just enjoying the moment, enjoying the dream,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what I think the message (is) that we’ve got to get out. It’s that every person in this country … of all the things going on, that have happened — stop the fighting. Love each other. We’re all created by one God. His son was Jesus Christ. Enjoy the moment like Josiah does.”

Rodriguez talked about how he wants to manage in the major leagues some day, as much as anything to demonstrate that if you chase dreams hard enough, they can come true.

Rodriguez was born in Cuba, but escaped to the U.S. on a boat and grew up in Miami. Now, he has a daughter working for a successful company in Florida, and a son who is happily coaching baseball after having his dreams dashed by injury. But he also proudly pointed to a picture hanging on the wall next to his desk of another son, Sean, a Pittsburgh Pirates infielder. Sean had a pretty good weekend, belting home runs off Chicago Cubs pitchers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester in a pair of Pirate wins.

“(God) will fulfill your dreams. Just look at that,” Rodriguez said, pointing to the picture of Sean. “Can I enjoy the moment?”

Working hard and following his faith got himself and his family to where they are.

And it’s also something he plans to talk about more for years to come, especially if he does make it as one of Major League Baseball’s 30 managers.

“If I have the opportunity to manage in the big leagues,” Rodriguez said, invoking the names of people from the NFL who have been quite public in their faith, “I will do what Tony Dungy did, Reggie White, (Tim) Tebow — I will not condemn (anyone). No one is going to hell. Only God knows who is going to hell. If any religion tells you you’re going to hell, they are wrong. The only judge out of all of us is the Lord and I don’t know. I, myself, I don’t know if I’m going to heaven, and I’m trying to walk with Him. It’s just — enjoy this God-given life.”

Rodriguez has been doing a pretty good job on the field.

He led the Spikes to a 17-6 record heading into Monday night’s game. It’s the best start to a season in franchise history and the best record in the New York-Penn League. He has everyone on the roster believing.

“It’s them, it ain’t me,” he said. “I’m just here pushing buttons. … I don’t know what’s going to happen. Follow my signs, it might happen.”

The Spikes are not missing his signs.

He may not be on the field hitting, throwing or catching, but he’s delivering the right message.

He even closed his monologue simply and as you would expect: “Amen.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT

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