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Pudge ready to return


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MILWAUKEE -- The Texas Rangers are planning a weekend of celebration when the Florida Marlins arrive for a three-game Interleague series starting Friday night.

And one of the happiest players on the field will be Florida catcher Pudge Rodriguez.


Rodriguez, who played all of his previous 12 seasons with the Rangers, is being honored by his former team prior to Friday night's game, which has been pushed back five minutes and will start at 8:10 ET.


"I still miss Texas -- the fans, the players, the ballpark, the organization. It was a great place to play," said Rodriguez, who was elated to learn he was being honored for his great years with the Rangers.


"It's very nice what they're doing," he said between games of the series in Milwaukee. "It'll be a nice night for me and my family and I look forward to it. It was a great (12) years there."


In his 12 seasons with the Rangers, he was an All-Star 10 times; nine straight years as a starter, and earned 10 Gold Gloves.


His batting average with the Rangers in 1,479 games was .305 with 215 home runs and 829 RBIs. His numbers, plus the All-Star selections and Gold Glove awards, probably make him a cinch for the Hall of Fame.


Milwaukee manager Ned Yost, who coached in Atlanta the previous 11 years and didn't see Rodriguez play very often, lauds the Florida catcher.


"He's almost as complete a player as there is for a catcher," said Yost, a catcher during his career. "That's very rare. He's a tremendous catcher who can stop a running game and he can hit. He's a good offensive player."





Florida manager Jack McKeon says there's a lot of good baseball left in the 31-year-old Rodriguez, who displayed cat-like quickness on a bunt Tuesday and on a stolen base, his ninth of the season, Wednesday.


"I think he's got a lot of good years left," McKeon said. "He's the team leader and we rely on him a lot for Interleague reports. He works well with the pitchers."


McKeon calls the Texas ceremony "very fitting and well-deserved."


"He was an outstanding player for them, one of the best in the history of their club," McKeon said. "He did a lot for that organization and he's a very popular guy down there."


Rodriguez said, "I've got a lot of good memories and it was a great place for me to play."


He said he had no idea the award ceremony would be held this year.


"I'm surprised because I'm still an active player," Rodriguez said. "But when you have so many good years with one team, that's the appreciation they give you. It's going to be a nice night and I hope it can be a great night overall."


He's also happy about the honors being bestowed on Texas first baseman Rafael Palmeiro on Saturday night. That ceremony, which has resulted in the game being delayed one-half hour, is in honor of Palmeiro reaching the 500 plateau in home runs.


"I'm very happy that I'm going to be there for him, too," Rodriguez said.


Meanwhile, Rodriguez is signed only for this season with the Marlins.


I'd like to stay with one team," he said, "but baseball is a sport where you don't know where you're going to be.


"I like it here. We've played great baseball all year and I think in one or two years we can be a playoff team."


Liking his swing: McKeon certainly is enjoying watching Derrek Lee at the plate.


For good reason. Lee hit two home runs in the series opener in Milwaukee and then added a solo shot after walking three times in the second game. The Marlins won both games -- 12-4 and 6-5.




McKeon seems to enjoy the walks almost as much as the home runs, realizing that both help the team.


"A lot of those pitches he's taking right now he used to swing at and strike out on," McKeon said. "I hope to can keep it that way because not only is he getting the bases on balls, which we need, but he'll also be getting pitches he can hit out of the ballpark."


The three home runs, by the way, traveled a total of 1,235 feet (415, 430 and 390).


Having a blast: Rookie left-handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis (5-1, 3.16 ERA) is enjoying life in the Major Leagues. And his success, so far, is earning plaudits from McKeon, who already is talking -- not so jokingly -- about his chances of being Rookie of the Year and, perhaps, an All-Star.


Willis laughed when he heard that.


"That would be a blessing, but you can't look that far," Willis said. "We've still got a lot of season left and anything can happen."


He was happy about his performance in Wednesday's 6-5 victory, dominating the first five innings before giving up a run in the sixth to end his scoreless streak at 17 innings, and allowing two more in the seventh before being replaced.


"I made some key pitches, got out of some jams, so I feel pretty good," he said before being reminded of his impressive record. "I think anyone would feel good at 5-1. Me, I'm a fun-loving guy and, obviously, when you're winning you enjoy yourself. But no matter what the situation is, I just keep going out there and battle."


So far, so good. Very good. Enough to have a long-time manager talk about earning awards.


"The All-Star Game, that's not up to me," Willis said. "I'm just a pawn in a very, very big game, one I don't have any control over.


"God willing, if that happens, it's a blessing. But if it doesn't I just take it for a stepping stone and just learn."




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