The Dominican Republic will always be a special place for Yariel Rodriguez.
Although the Neumann-Goretti senior shortstop was technically born in New Jersey, he wasn’t far removed from one of the biggest breeding grounds of professional baseball players. Rodriguez’s parents moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States when Yariel’s mother was 7 months pregnant with him, and his family returns to the Caribbean often to visit family and friends.
In 2021, Rodriguez stayed in the Dominican Republic during his sophomore year when high school baseball in the U.S. was canceled by COVID-19. It became a rare opportunity to learn a different style of baseball while attending school virtually.
“It’s so tough there,” Rodriguez said. “The routine is crazy. You have 13-year-olds shaped like Giancarlo Stanton already. They are animals. But it felt good to be surrounded by a group of guys like that. Even though I’m older and they should be looking up to me, you have to be humble when you are there. There were younger guys there that I looked up to. They’ve been through it. They earn everything they got.”
Rodriguez was already a good-hitting and smooth-fielding infielder before spending a year away. But the added experience helped shape him into one of the best players in the Catholic League. It gave him a new level of mental focus.
“My energy,” he said. “I feel like I had very strong energy before I went there, but seeing how those guys talk all game and how they practice. They have a motor behind everything they do. I thought I was energetic, but look at these guys. I think I amped it up about 20 notches coming from there.”
Last year, Rodriguez supplied 20 hits and 10 RBIs while batting .351 from the leadoff spot, setting the table for a senior-laden team. This year, he’s the only senior on the roster and batting out of the three-hole.
This season, through the Saints’ first four games, he’s batting .417 with five RBIs. On April 3, he knocked in three runs in a 10-2 win over Lansdale Catholic. Rodriguez’s early performance is a big reason Neumann-Goretti can be found at the top of the PCL standings with a 3-0 league record (3-1 overall) through April 9.
“Ever since he got here, we just clicked,” said pitcher Santino Pharma. “Everyone loves him. He’s our leader.”
It seems to be the consensus among Rodriguez’s teammates.
“He’s a great shortstop,” outfielder Christian Cerrone said. “He’s smooth in the field. He does everything and he’s a great captain. He really brings the energy. If we’re down, he brings us up.”
They say a rising tide lifts all boats. As a team, the Saints are knocking the cover off the ball early on with 29 runs in their first three PCL games. Cerrone is the new leadoff guy and is batting .533. Jimmy Gallo (.583) and Billy Smith (.400) are also off to a hot start. And with a young, strong pitching staff, the Saints are going to give opposing teams fits on most days.
“There’s seven innings in a game and (the opposition) has to go through us,” Rodriguez said. “Our lineup is strong. No matter what the other team gets, they still have to pitch to us. I’m confident in myself and in my boys and everyone behind me.”
Rodriguez wants to study exercise science next year and hopes to play baseball at the college level.
“I want to get to know the human body a lot more,” Rodriguez said. “If I don’t make it far out here, I want to help out other kids that are in my shoes right now. Whenever they are hurt, I want to be there to help. Right now I don’t know too much and I’ve had some injuries and if I had those resources, it would have helped me out a lot. I want to help generations to come.”
Right now, he’s helping his teammates gain the experience of playing high school baseball. It’s something he never takes for granted.
“I’ve been playing this game since I was born,” Rodriguez said. “I want to take this as far as I can. But every day I’m out here, I’m thankful. Everyday I get to touch a ball in my hand and be out here with the boys and play the game, it’s a blessing. Not too many people have it like us.”