SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Edwin Rodriguez has lived and breathed baseball for a long time. The moment he first stepped onto the field Monday at Hiram Bithorn Stadium as Florida's interim manager, that was truly special.
Less than a week after taking over the Marlins and becoming the first big league manager born in Puerto Rico, he was getting ready for a game in the capital of his beloved Caribbean homeland, in front of family and friends -- and what a homecoming it was.
A dozen musicians with trumpets, drums, and maracas played for fans who lined up at food stands that sold tropical fruit drinks alongside hot dogs and burgers as Cody Ross homered, Ricky Nolasco pitched seven solid innings and the Marlins beat the New York Mets 10-3.
"I can tell you, it feels just unbelievable," Rodriguez said, standing near first base hours before the series. "I'm very aware of what it means for me, for my family, and really for the whole [island]. It's like a dream come true for me."
A week ago, he was the Marlins' Triple-A manager in New Orleans. Filling in for the fired Fredi Gonzalez, Rodriguez has been told he'll be with the club for the entirety of the series in San Juan. What happens next remains anyone's guess.
But for the moment, he said it all feels like gravy. Rodriguez grew up about 90 minutes away from San Juan and his current home is not only in the city, but about a five-minute drive "with traffic" away from the ballpark.
Joe Espada, the Marlins' third-base coach and a native of Santurce, said he can only imagine the kind of pride Rodriguez is feeling before the history-making series in the U.S. Caribbean territory.
"I've known Edwin for a long time, and there is nobody who deserves this more. For what he's done for the game here in Puerto Rico, from little league to the big leagues, it's incredible," Espada said by the Marlins dugout. "He deserves it all, and what we need to do is get a couple of wins out of this for him."
Rodriguez is a candidate for the Marlins' full-time managerial job, having interviewed with the team formally on Saturday. He is one of three known candidates, with former major league manager and current ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine and Arizona third-base coach Bo Porter (a former Marlins coach) being the others.
Rodriguez signed autographs for fans before the game, and it was clear who was the favorite for the job in Puerto Rico.
"It's about time a 'boricua' made it as a manager, so good for him. Puerto Rico has produced so many great players," said Marlins fan Manuel Ortiz Carrasquillo, using the Taino Indian word which is the term Puerto Ricans use to refer to themselves.
Other fans congregated outside the San Juan stadium waving Puerto Rican flags.
It's the third time the Marlins, who have a large Latin following, have played a regular-season series in San Juan. They took two of three games from the Montreal Expos in 2003, then swept the Expos in 2004.
Ticket sales have reportedly been brisk since it became evident that Puerto Ricans could see one of their own calling the shots in a big league dugout for the first time, and the significance isn't lost on the Florida clubhouse.
But Espada stressed that the Marlins were here to win.
"The change of scenery here in Puerto Rico, it's exciting for the players. But we're here for a three-game series to try to gain some ground. This is not a vacation," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.