The Birth Of A Queens
By RICHARD FASANELLA
The field during its construction earlier this year.
Tribune Photo By Ira Cohen
We all remember the great endings.
Mookie Wilsons grounder trickling
through Bill Buckners legs to give the Mets the victory in Game 6 of the 1986 World
Series. The game-winning grand slam-single by Mets third baseman Robin Ventura during game
five of last years National League Championship Series.
But who remembers the beginnings? People
like Eddie Rodriguez and, soon, the neighborhoods of Queens.
This summer the New York Mets newest
minor league franchise the Queens Kings will take to the field in Queens and
patrolling the dugout will be Eddie Rodriguez.
Even as the media frenzy and glory of the
first ball is being planned for the St. Johns Ballfield next week, Coach Rodriguez
has never seen the field which made headlines of controversy in the neighborhood.
Hes still at training camp in Florida and he doesnt even have a final roster
yet for the Kings of Queens, but he knows what he wants and he knows what the players will
need to turn this beginning into a major league ending.
Rodriguez told the Tribune
this week that he had only worked with the full squad for a few days largely because it
takes so long to sign players after they are drafted. This years squad consists of
mostly new players who signed on as free agents or were drafted, with only six returning
from last season.
The Penn League limits roster size to 30
active players, but only 25 may be in uniform and eligible to play in any given game.
"These players are just breaking in,
ranging in age from 19 to 22," Rodriguez said. "They are very raw and have very
little experience so in order to keep anybody from getting hurt we always keep an
excessive number of players, especially pitchers."
Rodriguez said that the Kings will carry 17
pitchers to be exact, some of which already have a year or twos experience under
"The pitching looks real good,
especially since weve got one or two guys coming back from last season to anchor the
rotation," said Rodriguez. "The bullpen also looks strong, with some of the guys
having already put in nearly two years of playing time."
Among the position players, Rodriguez said
that most are quite young, but that the catching looks good and the outfielders have some
The greatest challenge
Rodriguez said he faces as a manager is teaching his squad to play with consistency, which
he sees as the most significant difference between players at the minor and major league
"A pitcher in the big leagues can
consistently move the ball around the plate, but in the minors not so much."
Rodriguez said that he wears many hats
including those of teacher, father figure, friend and even psychologist, especially when
players under his tutelage are struggling.
"Many of these guys are playing
professional baseball for the first time, are away from home for the first time,"
said Rodriguez, adding that they often need more than just a coach available to them.
"The word manager is just a title that
the organization gives you," Rodriguez said. "But Im a teacher."
Beyond the strong bonds that are formed
during a players first years at the professional level, Rodriguez said that there are also
other differences between the minors and majors beyond the level of competition.
"There is a lot more intimacy in minor
league baseball," Rodriguez said. "The players are feeling their way through
right now. Its tough in the beginning, but once they get to know each other over the
next two or three weeks theyll play better as a team."
The Ballfield at St. Johns University has just been completed despite continued
opposition from some local residents concerned about the impact it will have on the
Tribune Photos By Ira Cohen
Rounding out the coaching staff will
be Jim Rooney and Jorge Rivera. Rooney, a southpaw who threw for the Orioles from 1981 to
1985, will help mold the young pitching rotation, while Rivera, a former catcher with the
Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations, will work with the rest of the
Although Rodriguez has not worked with
either of these coaches before in this capacity, he is confident that the team will be
well prepared to compete in the NY-Penn League. The players are equally confident,
especially since Rodriguez was recently named as the third base coach to the U.S. Olympic
baseball team that will compete later this year at the 2000 Summer Olympics hosted in
"It was a total surprise,"
Rodriguez said of his selection to the Olympic team. "It was a tremendous feeling
just to be nominated, but to actually be chosen over the 30 third base coaches in the big
leagues, I was extremely honored."
A native of Havana, Cuba,
Rodriguez emigrated to the United States in 1966 at the tender age of six.
After moving around for several years from
Florida to Ohio and even nearby New Jersey, the family finally settled in Miami, Florida
where Rodriguez attended Miami Senior High School and starred on the baseball team.
Folowing graduation, Rodriguez just missed
the June draft, so he attended Miami Dade South Junior College for a semester before
tossing his name into the winter draft back in the days when Major League Baseball had two
drafts every year.
An infielder, Rodriguez was drafted by the
Baltimore Orioles in 1978 and later signed with the California Angels in 1980 as a free
agent. He spent a total of seven years in the minors, making it as far as the Double AA
However, coaching is where Rodriguez would
make his mark, first with the Angels organization and later with the Toronto Blue Jays.
"Two of the greatest thrills in my
life were being called up to the Majors as a coach," said Rodriguez who served as a
third base coach in 1996 with the Angels and again in 1998 with the Blue Jays.
The Kings will open up the
2000 season against the defending NY-Penn League champion, Hudson Valley Renegades, a
prospect that Rodriguez said he is looking forward to.
"I feel good about this team,"
Rodriguez said. "Besides playing the defending champs, well be playing a lot
more against the southern division a luxury we didnt have last season. I
think that will bring a lot more excitement to the season and give the players something
else to look forward to on the road."
For the most part, the majority of the
current players will stay at this level throughout the year-at a level where they can
"Confidence plays a big part in our
game," Rodriguez said. "So whatever they can learn will help them a lot in the
Right now, though, his attention is focused
on preparing his team for their home opener on June 21 when minor league baseball makes
its debut in Queens.
By RICHARD FASANELLA
A Queens Supreme Court Judge has refused to
delay opening day for a minor league, professional baseball team until the legality of a
commercial sports stadium in a Queens residential neighborhood is determined.
Supreme Court Justice Charles Thomas has
denied the application for a preliminary injunction blocking the June 21 opening game of
the Queens Kings until June 27.
On that date, the New York City Board of
Standards and Appeals is expected to rule on whether the City of New York legally obtained
a permit to build a 3,500-seat baseball stadium on the campus of St. Johns
University, in an area zoned residential.
"I am extremely disappointed that
Judge Thomas was unable to recognize the need for the injunction," said Senator Frank
Padavan, who is joined in opposing construction of the stadium by Assemblyman Mark Weprin
and the Jamaica Estates, Hillcrest Estates and Flushing Heights Civic Associations as well
as the Queens Civic Congress.
"However, the merits in this case have
not yet been weighed by the court. Depending on the BSA verdict, the Court still must
consider the devastating impact that the sports stadium would have on the community. The
fact remains that the City has ignored State law on environmental review. Also, commercial
stadiums are prohibited in residential zones by law," Senator Padavan said.
The City has continually maintained that the ballpark is in
compliance with all various building regulations and that since the field will be shared
with the St. Johns University baseball team, it should be classified as an
"accessory educational use" allowing it to stay in the residentially zoned