Frankie returns, vows to be focused
Closer back after tending to injured brother in Venezuela
NEW YORK -- The game isn't all physical skills. And there are those big leaguers, past and present, who insist that the ability to concentrate is as critical as the ability to throw or hit a slider. The players call it focus. It is single-mindedness, thoughts about nothing besides the job at hand.
Frankie Rodriguez, who rejoined the Mets on Sunday after tending to his injured brother in Venezuela, soon will be tested in that area. If the Mets are fortunate at Citi Field on Monday afternoon, he is likely to be summoned from their resituated and rebuilt bullpen to pitch the ninth and preserve a lead David Wright, Jason Bay and the boys have afforded Johan Santana.
Rodriguez knows the drill. He has achieved tunnel vision untold times in his eight seasons in the big leagues.This time, the tunnel is likely to come with distraction. The trick is to make him disappear and then rush back to single-mindedness.
"It won't be easy at all," Rodriguez said Sunday. Amid a dozen promises he made following the Mets' final dress rehearsal for Opening Day, he vowed he'll handle his assignment with customary focus. But the Mets' closer twice acknowledged, "it won't be easy at all."
No one said it would. But the Mets expect it to be accomplished. Professionalism is a cold, demanding boss, but it wants focus. So before the first pitch leaves Rodriguez's right hand, the multiple broken bones that have put his 21-year-old brother Leandro in a hospital in Caracas, Venezuela, will be pushed aside with a myriad of other matters that can't matter in a ninth inning.
Just the same, distraction will be there, tapping him on the shoulder at the least convenient moments.
Rodriguez returned to his native Venezuela on Wednesday. He had thoughts of remaining with his family.
"But I've got a big responsibility here, too," he said. "I just decided to come practice and come here. ... [My family members] were the ones who told me to go [back]. 'Don't worry. We're going to be fine.'
"It is traumatic. You know accidents are part of life, but you never want to see one of your brothers involved in it. When you see him four or five weeks ago totally healthy, and when you go back there and see him with a bunch of IVs, in a bed, you don't feel good. It gets to the point where you realize how important your family is.
"I always try not to put my personal life involved with my job. It's difficult, because sometimes your mind is going to be over there and your body is here. But I've got to find a way to just wipe it out and make sure to concentrate when it's time to do my job."
Leandro Rodriguez was seated as a passenger in the truck his 24-year-old brother Erik was driving at about 3 a.m. ET in Venezuela, about five driving hours away from Caracas, en route to Apure. Erik just had replaced his older brother as the driver.
"Leandro wanted to stop and told my brother, 'Listen, I'm kind of tired. We need to make a stop,'" Rodriguez explained in somber tones. "[Erik] said, 'Just give me the car. I'll take care of it from here.' And then five minutes later he fell asleep and went off the road and down a hill."
It was bad; three of the four passengers weren't belted. It could have been tragically worse; five minutes after Erik was pulled from the vehicle, it exploded.
"Totally exploded," Rodriguez said.
Leandro suffered fractures of both hips, both upper legs, a knee, an arm, an ankle and ribs. He required a transfusion and will need multiple surgeries. Rodriguez, who traveled to Venezeula on Thursday, said his brother was listed in critical condition but had been stabilized.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.