Cadahia a major influence for Pudge
Braves bench coach took star catcher under his wing
ATLANTA -- Who is Ivan Rodriguez?
The question has to be asked, because the Detroit Tigers catcher is commonly -- perhaps exclusively -- known and referred to as "Pudge." He has an actual first name, but it has become basically irrelevant and obsolete.
The man to thank for that is Atlanta bench coach Chino Cadahia, who saddled Rodriguez with the handle long before Rodriguez began his possible Hall of Fame career.
"He just called me that name," Rodriguez said. "Now everybody knows me from that name because of him."
The story goes like this:
Well, we don't exactly know how the story goes, except that Cadahia first called Rodriguez "Pudge" during Spring Training in 1989, when Rodriguez was 17 years old.
The name hardly fit the muscular Rodriguez, and it was already being used by former Boston and Chicago White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk. But the name stuck, and Rodriguez has long since passed Fisk as the most well-known "Pudge" in Major League history.
"I don't remember how the name Pudge came about, because he's not a pudgy guy," Cadahia said. "He's always been strong, even as a kid, even though he's only 5[-foot-]9 in stature.
"People have asked me that before, and I don't remember how it came about."
Giving Rodriguez his famous nickname isn't the only influence Cadahia had on the 13-time All Star's career. When Rodriguez signed with Texas in the summer of 1988, he was sent to the Gulf Coast League, where Cadahia was managing a team in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Rodriguez didn't play for Cadahia because the Rangers didn't want to use a year of Minor League service time to use him for the final month of the season. But Cadahia, a former catcher himself, showed Rodriguez the ropes, on and off the field.
"We had him with us for a month, and you could tell he was a special kid," Cadahia said. "We got him into instructional league that fall and he was everything we could dream about, especially as a catcher. Quick feet, good arm, good head and he took a lot of pride in what he was doing.
"I worked on the few things he was doing wrong just to make him better, and pretty much the rest is history."
Cadahia said Rodriguez rarely became tired, so he took advantage of the young catcher's work ethic.
"He always took me to work out and work on blocking and throwing and things like that to make me a better player," Rodriguez said. "He helped me a lot to become a better catcher and a better player."
Besides learning the game on a professional level, Rodriguez had to learn a new language after coming to the Rangers from Puerto Rico. Cadahia, who is Cuban, helped him with that.
Cadahia also showed Rodriguez how to adapt to life on his own, giving tips on typical household chores.
"We had him at 16 years old and he was brand new to this game," Cadahia said. "He didn't know the ups and downs, the everyday grind and how to prepare. He didn't know how to live on your own or how to do laundry or anything like that. He was just a baby, so he had to go through all those hassles."
The most important thing Cadahia did for Rodriguez was, as Cadahia put it, "get out of the way."
Cadahia and the Rangers could tell they had a special player on their hands, so they approached the process of his development carefully. It obviously worked, because Rodriguez has blossomed into one of the best catchers in Major League history.
As an added bonus, Cadahia got a friend out of the deal, too.
"It's an honor to consider him a friend and a pleasure to see greatness at his best," Cadahia said. "I still say he's the best [catcher] I've ever seen."
Jeff Lutz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.