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Record of the Week: Julio Rodríguez makes us proud

It hits different ‘cause it’s you

T-Mobile Home Run Derby Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

When Julio Rodríguez hit the first ball he saw into the bullpen, and then the next one into Edgar’s, and then the third one into Edgar’s, and then the next one to the Starbucks sign, and then the fifth one into the upper tank of bleachers, it was a spectacle that had me smiling like an idiot.

But beyond that, I’d never felt more connected to him. And even after a year of anticipating his follow-up to 2022’s record-breaking performance, my feelings still took me by surprise. I couldn’t quite figure out what that emotion was. Clearly his putting this kind of show on inside T-Mobile Park had something to do with it.

He may only have adopted our town, but he did it with conviction. Writing for the Players’ Tribune before this season, he said:

People ask me all the time about what our fans are like, or what the stadium was like during the playoff run. I’m not going to sit here and tell you about how they’re the “loudest” or the “craziest” or whatever. It’s not about that. I’ve been in the league for a year. Mariners’ fans are all I really know. Yeah, we went to some loud parks and all that, but it’s different when you’re a visitor. All I can tell you is that there’s an emotional connection at our park that you just have to experience to really understand. Coming out onto the field for big games…. Man, I would just get this feeling. It would start in my ankles, up my legs, through my back and then just BAM — this bolt of energy through my body. And I’d take that and I’d run with it all night. I’d look around the park … and it just felt like, I’m supposed to be here.

I’m supposed to be here.

He says Seattle is “home,” and it’s why he signed a contract to stay here forever. Surely he would not have done it if the price wasn’t right. But he says he never thought twice about spending his career anywhere else, and he doesn’t care if you believe it.

That defensiveness comes from knowing that maybe you don’t believe it. And, yes, there’s some self-mythologizing going on here. I’m suspicious that someone as media-savvy as Julio actually spent his childhood in Loma de Cabrera pretending to be Ichiro rather than, say, Albert Pujols. But I choose to believe it because even though Julio is just a man, it’s all too easy to see him as a knight and his bat as his sword. That is to say, he is a myth, so why not allow a little mythologizing?

After last year’s derby, I argued that Julio is for everyone, and I still think that’s true. Julio is ours, but you can have him too. Julio allows for infinite joy. What’s truly special about Julio isn’t so much that he is ours as that we are his.

You see it in the way he interacts with the J-Rod Squad. You see it in how long he stays out signing autographs. You see it in the way that he enters the Home Run Derby with a bat that says “There’s no place like home.” Julio has convinced me that he does all this for us.

And that’s how I recognized my feeling as pride.

Having pride in another person is an odd phenomenon. It’s relatively easy to be happy for someone else; that’s what it means to live with an open heart. But pride is fundamentally self-esteem. There’s a selfishness to it—it’s why so many religions call joy a blessing but pride a sin. So to feel it for another person, you must see that person as an extension of yourself, as happens so often with one’s children.

As odd as it is to feel proud of another person, it’s even odder to feel that way about a person you’ve never met. But that’s what happens when someone appoints himself as your champion and delivers. Julio’s never met me either, but he’s heard my applause. And that was all it took for him to fully embrace me as his own.

Julio Rodríguez has made me feel like when he hit that record-setting 41st ball over the fence, somehow I had done it too. How could anything else be your play of the week?

Honorable Mentions

Jarred Works His Way Into an RBI Double

A challenged play at the plate and anxiety over Julio’s ankle overshadowed how great an at-bat this was from Jarred. It’s hard to blame him for swinging through at this pitch, which was not only perfectly located, but also a changeup, the pitch he’s had the hardest time with this season.

Following that up by laying off these two, after falling into an 0-2 count, feels like something we haven’t seen from Jarred in a while.

It got him back to seeing a fastball, which he punished into the gap, bringing the game back within reach.

Julio Keeps the Line Moving

Julio’s clutch score is in the bottom 15% of qualified batters this year, so we held our breaths when he came to the plate with two outs and one on in the bottom of the ninth, down by one, in the All-Star Game in his home stadium. And he didn’t hit the legend-making home run, but his admirable restraint nonetheless earned him an About Last Night. Circumstances be damned, you’re not supposed to swing at pitches outside the strike zone.