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"I think we're going to be a big, big surprise"


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February 7, 2003

Copyright 2003 The Miami Herald. All rights reserved.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.


MIAMI - Welcome to Pudge's Palace.


The nine-bedroom, 11 1/2-bathroom, multimillion-dollar Miami Beach home of newly crowned Florida Marlins catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.


Inside, Rodriguez's wife, Maribel, and their three children are sitting down to dinner with his assistant, his brother, Maribel's sister the nanny, her husband, the chef, the maid and the house-sitter.


Rodriguez, all of 5-9 and 218 pounds, is in the back yard smiling from ear to ear, leaning against his 6-foot-plus, one-ton bronzed statue of himself.


His twin-engine 750 horse-powered Cigarette speedboat and 118-foot yacht are docked a few feet away.


For Pudge, this is home.


"I never expected to have all this," says Rodriguez, 31, who grew up along the coast in Puerto Rico in a city called Vega Baja. "But you always have dreams in your life. And I always dreamt about having my house near the water with my boats.


"Some people want to save money to use it later on in life, but I always felt, `Why wait until later if you are young and can enjoy it now?' "


Whether Rodriguez can enjoy his home after this season is in doubt. He signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Marlins. He said he would like to return in 2004, but only if the Marlins win - and draw fans back to Pro Player Stadium.


"I don't blame the fans for their attitude," he said. "It was bad what happened here a few years ago. Nobody deserves to have a championship team ripped apart. But at the same time, people have to understand that baseball is a business. Look at me. Texas let me go after 12 seasons - just like that.


"Do I think I can bring more fans to the games? Yes, but not by myself. We need to start winning. If we win, people will come. The key is to start winning in spring training."


The Marlins are hoping Rodriguez, a 10-time American League All-Star and the 1999 American League MVP, can help them on the field. He has already made an impact at the gate - about 220 season-ticket plans have been bought since his signing a little more than a week ago.


"Every time I go out, somebody tells me `Welcome home, Pudge,' " Rodriguez said. "They tell me, `Thank you for coming to the Marlins. I'm going to go back to see you play.' When you hear that from people, you start to think it can happen."




His wife would like to see that happen, too.


Their house, which they bought a little more than two years ago, is where she wants to settle down. During his 12 years in Texas, they moved four times.


"We started with a little house," she said. "Then we bought a humongous house that was way too big. Then we bought another one that was more for us, that was perfect, really. Unfortunately, we didn't get to enjoy it very long."


Maribel says she and her husband had been searching for a home on Miami Beach for two years before they found a spot amid luxurious company.


The television show MTV Cribs could have a field day.


Songwriter Desmond Child lives next door. After that, the rest of the neighborhood is like a Latino barrio - J-Lo living four houses away, Ricky Martin across the street and Enrique Iglesias around the corner. Chayanne is expected to move nearby soon.


Pudge's Palace, which has several SUVs outside, has a pool, media room, billiards room, spa, gym and guest quarters on more than one acre.


Maribel says she basically gutted the place, which originally had been built in the 1930s.


She says she knew a year ago the family was going to have to move out of Texas.


"I knew last spring training that the Rangers weren't going to sign him," she says. "I put the house up for sale, and Ivan kept telling me no. By the time the season started, we had somebody to buy it, so we leased it and moved out.


"This house is it for us. I spent so much time designing it the way I wanted that there is no way we are moving. I would love for him to stay here. If they sign him for three or four years, that would be great. But I don't know. We need the fans to go to the games."


Rodriguez said his ideal situation would be to stay with the Marlins if ...


"If we can put a good team together and have a good season and they tell me to stay here and put it together, I'll stay," he said. "I'm signed for a year. Later on, I don't know what's going to happen. But if during the season, they offer me a contract with a few years on it, I'll consider it because this is home."


Rodriguez already has been making South Florida his offseason home for a while, living in Santa Maria in the Gables for three years.


He added South Florida as one of his organization's fund-raising beneficiaries that helps families with cancer-stricken children. Over the past decade, the organization has raised $325,000 for families in Texas and Puerto Rico.


In October, a few months after moving into their new home, Rodriguez donated $10,000 to the Miami Beach chapter of the National Optimist Little League based in Flamingo Park.


His son, Ivan Derrick, 10, plays baseball there and has been developing as a pitcher and catcher. All three children, including Amanda Christina, 7, and Ivanna Sofia, 3, are home-schooled.


Maribel, 30, says Rodriguez loves to wrestle with his children and is a homebody. The family enjoys getting together to play Monopoly or other board games.


"Ivan doesn't like to lose to anybody in Monopoly," said Shary Schettini, his spokeswoman. "He'll do anything to win."


He did all he could to win Maribel's heart when they first met 13 years ago, when he was playing Single A ball in Puerto Rico. Her mother didn't like him much at the beginning.


"When we first met, I didn't like him, not at all," she said. "My mother much less. But after a year of getting to know him, we clicked."


Though Rodriguez says he'll "never be caught dead out on the dance floor," he says he still takes his wife out to clubs and restaurants on South Beach.


"Ivan is really fun to be with," Maribel said. "He's like a hyper child."


Maribel said her life as a player's wife was somewhat destined.


"When I was 12 years old, I was a Mets fan," she said. "I remember watching a game and seeing the wives of the ballplayers in the stands. I asked my mom, `I wonder how would it be to be a ballplayer's wife?' Now I know - it's cool."


But what if Rodriguez never ended up being a ballplayer?


"He tells me he would be a truck driver," she said. "And I don't think I would be here. I wouldn't have married a truck driver. A mailman, maybe. But not somebody who smells like gasoline and has dirt on him. I don't think so."




Over the years, Rodriguez has made plenty of friends among sports stars. His office has autographed photos and bats of Derek Jeter and former teammate Alex Rodriguez, a putter and hat from golfer and close friend Chi Chi Rodriguez, and several photos of him with former Rangers owner George W. Bush.


The family met with Bush for dinner in October at the White House.


"We used to sit down and talk baseball all the time when he was in Texas," Rodriguez said. "Nowadays, he's a lot busier."


Rodriguez said he can't wait to meet his new Marlins teammates and get acquainted. The only Marlin he said he had spoken to before signing was third baseman Mike Lowell.


"I'm going to invite everybody over for a get-together," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully, we can hang out on the boat."


Rodriguez says he's going to take his yacht with him up the coast when Marlins pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Jupiter on Feb. 17.


The team could decide to bunk there with him. The yacht, which features a giant kitchen and living room with a fold-up, flat-screen TV, has five bedrooms and nine beds.


"I'm going to send it up to Jupiter for about a week," Rodriguez said. "I want to be comfortable."


The Marlins will travel to Puerto Rico in September for a series against the Expos. He has made the trip to Puerto Rico in the yacht before. No word yet if the yacht is making the trip then, too.


"I'm a boat person," he said. "It's a very expensive hobby, but I like it."


As for his back and knees, which caused him to miss 176 games the past three seasons, Rodriguez says there is no reason to worry.


"I'm not tired of people asking me about my injuries," he said. "It's true, I was hurt. Right now, the media is going to keep asking me the same questions until I get to spring training. But once they see me play and I put up the numbers, they're going to stop."


As for the team, he expects the Marlins to be the National League's biggest surprise.


"I think the Marlins have a great young team," Rodriguez said. "I think we can surprise a lot of teams. Don't look at the team just for its lineup. Look at the whole team. You can have a powerful lineup, but if you don't have pitching, you are going to lose a lot of games.


"But if you have a lineup that has guys that can bunt, steal, power hitters, balance from one to nine, then you can win if you have pitching.


"And I think the Marlins have great pitching. They're young, but they've been in the league for three, four, five years and they know what they can do. I think with me behind the plate, it will help them.


"A lot of people say, `Well, what about the lineup? Don't you need another power hitter?' Yeah, we could use one. I think we need one more. But if we don't find anybody, we'll be fine with what we have.


"When you have a young team that hustles and comes to the field hungry and doesn't want to lose, I think you can win. I think we're going to be a big, big surprise."

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Songwriter Desmond Child lives next door. After that, the rest of the neighborhood is like a Latino barrio - J-Lo living four houses away, Ricky Martin across the street and Enrique Iglesias around the corner. Chayanne is expected to move nearby soon.


Pudge's Palace, which has several SUVs outside, has a pool, media room, billiards room, spa, gym and guest quarters on more than one acre.



: :drool s:: Can he have me over for dinner?? LOL :p

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