Julio Rodriguez grew up in Loma de Cabrera, a small Dominican town of roughly 20,000 located near the Haitian border. Before him, the only prominent baseball player from there was Rafael Furcal, an All-Star shortstop through the 2000s.
Rodriguez looked up to Furcal as a kid. He remembers the parade that the city organized for him and all the fanfare that came with it. Now Rodriguez will get one of his own. When the Seattle Mariners' dynamic young center fielder returns home this offseason, a parade will take place in his honor. It will be a holiday in his hometown.
"It's gonna be pretty exciting," Rodriguez said, smiling. "I'm definitely going to try to enjoy it."
Rodriguez was named the American League Rookie of the Year in near-unanimous fashion on Monday, a fitting cap to a stirring campaign that saw him dazzle at the Home Run Derby, perform among the sport's best players and propel the Mariners to a long-awaited trip to the playoffs.
Rodriguez received 29 of 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America, with Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman receiving the other. Cleveland Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan, Kansas City Royals infielder Bobby Witt Jr. and Houston Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the voting.
Rodriguez, 21, electrified the city of Seattle and captivated an entire nation of baseball fans with his youthful exuberance, pronounced swagger and wide-ranging talent. He slashed .284/.345/.509, leading all rookies in homers (28), OPS (.855) and total bases (260) while helping the Mariners clinch their first postseason berth since 2001, snapping the longest active drought among the four major North American professional sports.
Along the way, Rodriguez consistently came through in big spots, dazzling with his defense, power and speed. His 5.3 FanGraphs wins above replacement tied that of Rutschman for the rookie lead and was topped by only 21 position players throughout the sport.
Rodriguez, who added 25 stolen bases and 25 doubles, is now the fifth Mariners player to win rookie of the year, after Alvin Davis (1984), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000), Ichiro Suzuki (2001) and Kyle Lewis (2020).
Only two other players since 1900 have accumulated at least 28 home runs, 25 stolen bases and 25 doubles in their age-21-or-younger seasons -- Mike Trout and Andruw Jones. Rodriguez is the first player ever to combine 25 home runs with 25 stolen bases in his first season in the big leagues and the third to do so while still rookie eligible, along with Trout and Chris Young, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The Mariners envisioned Rodriguez as a potential star when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $1.75 million in the summer of 2017, but he profiled more as a power-hitting corner outfielder. Rodriguez worked to turn himself into a five-tool center fielder, zooming through the Mariners' minor league system -- despite losing an entire season to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 -- and cracking the team's Opening Day roster this spring.
Before the end of August, the Mariners rewarded Rodriguez with a long-term extension that will pay him anywhere between $210 million and $470 million over the life of his career, an unprecedented -- and highly incentivized -- contract for someone with less than a full year of major league service time. But before all that came struggle. Rodriguez went homerless with a .544 OPS during his first month in the big leagues. But he recovered well enough to become the only rookie to make the All-Star team.
"I feel like that's when I learned the most -- on the down parts," Rodriguez said during a video conference with the media after winning the award. "That rough start to the beginning, whenever I maybe was not doing so good, all those things that happened that first year that kind of opened my eyes -- I'm gonna take all that. And I know it's gonna serve me well along my career."