How the sport of softball bonds the Rodriguez family

By Codi Warren (cwarren@usasoftball.com) | May 29, 2018, 11:19 a.m. (ET)

You often hear people refer to the softball community as one large family.  For Ethan Rodriguez, a member of the 2018 USA Softball Junior Men’s National Team, and his father Johnny, softball truly is a family affair.

Ten years ago, Johnny was introduced to men’s fast pitch softball through one of his employees’, Joe Berberena.  Having missed a company event after attending a 2008 USA Softball National Championship, Johnny listened as his Berberena recalled his experience while discussing the many local leagues and tournaments within a 100-mile radius of Hayward, Calif. area.  With an invitation to come out and play, Johnny was interested and took him up on the offer, though his 10-year hiatus from competitive sports made it a memorable experience.

“It was a rough learning curve to pick up a glove and play,” Johnny mused.  Regardless of the learning curve, Johnny was hooked.  “Fast pitch is addictive.”

For Ethan, growing up he and his father would talk about the game of fast pitch, which naturally developed into an interest in the game.  Then, in 2015, he got the opportunity to play with his father in a local league.  Similar to his father, Ethan immediately loved the game and relished the opportunity to play with his dad and teammates.  “Being a manger is hard enough, but my dad is a player also.  Watching him play at a competitive level at 40-years old after two torn ACL surgeries is inspirational.” 

The opportunity to play with his son is something Johnny does not take for granted.  “My dad passed when I was 13 years old and I don’t remember playing catch with him in my lifetime.  To be able to introduce my son to a sport played by adults in a competitive environment helps him venture out of his comfort zone.”

For the Rodriguez family it’s more than just stepping on the field together - it’s about creating those memories and furthering their father/son relationship. 

“I hear my friends talk about how annoying it could be to have their dad around them all the time, but I absolutely love it,” said Ethan.  “He has always treated me like everyone else and taught me the game and how to be a great teammate.  We have a special connection – I know what he is thinking and what he needs me to do to be successful.”

“Sports allow for us to learn life lessons,” Johnny continued.  “Ethan and I talk about what we see, how we thought situations out and how we feel about our performances or contributions.  We’ve always had a great relationship, but being able to share this sport allows me to teach him how I read the game and how to read situations and teammates to get the best out of the team.  He loves to talk about the psychology of the game.”

The two mostly play together in the Northern California Hawaiian Athletic Association league every Sunday. 

“When we play together, I feel like one of the guys, but between him and I it is a competition,” Ethan jokes.  “I want to out hit or out play him, but never at the expense of the team.  His teammates are like family to me and are very supportive and help me to get better.”

Friendly competition aside, they both recalled a time when they had to play on opposite teams in a playoff game.  Ethan ended up going 3-for-4 with four RBI in the contest, which included driving in the tying run in the top of the seventh inning. 

“I would look at my dad and he would just shake his head or give me that look like ‘of course it would be you,’” Ethan joked.  With Johnny’s friends ribbing him about his son outplaying him and his team down by one, he stepped up to bat in the bottom of the seventh and drilled a fly ball to Ethan in centerfield.  Despite Ethan diving, he came up short and barely missed the play, resulting in an RBI triple by Johnny to plate the tying run.  A few pitches later, he would score the game-winning run. 

“Let’s just say I am happy that I had the better outcome,” Johnny said.  “He was on fire that night.”  Ethan added, “He joked that it would have been a long ride home if I wound up out-hitting him.”

Friendly banter aside, Johnny is extremely proud of how far his son has come in the game, including his spot on the 2018 Junior Men’s National Team roster.

“I never knew he could have the opportunity to play for Team USA.  I know it’s easy to talk about your own kid, but watching how Ethan learns about the game and how he’s a leader on the field amongst a team of adult men is impressive for a 16-year old.  That makes me believe that he can adapt to any role he may have within Team USA.”

With Ethan wearing the Red, White and Blue colors proudly, Johnny praises the way his son carries himself.  “Whether he’s in our out of Team USA’s colors, he makes me very proud to be his dad.”