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Success and setback

Sean Rodríguez of the Philadelphia Phillies bats against the Baltimore Orioles. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)


Success and setback

When an accident and injury left Sean Rodríguez in a slump, he chose to work hard and leave results to God

Sean Rodríguez, right-handed versatile player for the Philadelphia Phillies, has just completed his 12th season of major league baseball—a season he wasn’t sure he’d ever play.

In November 2016, following his best season ever, Rodríguez signed an $11.5 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. Two months later, a stolen police cruiser T-boned the SUV he was driving with his wife, Giselle, and two of their four children. Giselle and his children suffered serious injuries. The driver of the stolen vehicle died as the cruiser burst into flames. 

Rodríguez says he only remembers standing next to his crumpled Suburban and seeing his wife and boys lying on the ground with paramedics kneeling over them. He was so focused on helping his family through the ordeal that 10 days passed before he realized he’d suffered significant shoulder damage, including a torn left rotator cuff.

His surgeon said it was the second-worst shoulder injury he’d seen and that even after surgery and rehab a comeback would be tough. Rodríguez responded: “I know my work ethic, and I know my Healer.” Even so, he labored long to regain strength and range of motion, at the same time caring for his recovering family.

After five months, he rejoined the Braves for 15 games before they traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he struggled through the end of 2017 and the 2018 season. “I think I was trying too hard,” says Rodríguez. “I couldn’t relax and just play.”

Last winter, he and Giselle had deep conversations about his baseball future. They decided Rodríguez would train as hard as ever, but they’d continue to trust God. He told me, “The accident brought my wife, my family, me, even closer to each other and to God. We weren’t gonna take any blessings for granted. Whether God wanted me to keep playing or not, so be it.”

In February, he signed a Phillies minor league contract for $100,000, a far cry from 2016. “It’s not about the money. … I’ve been passionate about baseball since I was 4,” he says. “I love the game.”

As a 33-year-old returning to the minors, he became the fireplug rallying the team. He took his own advice: Work harder than anyone else. Then trust your preparation and just play the game.

In April, the Phillies called him to the majors. He played every position but catcher and finished 2019 with a commendable .348 on-base percentage, the second-highest of his career.

Rodríguez wants to keep playing, but as a free agent he doesn’t know what next year holds. He says his ultimate goal is to play long enough to be able to donate a full season’s salary to church. He and Giselle plan to head to Cuba shortly to do short-term mission work.

John Blanchard, a leadership consultant for pro baseball teams, sees Rodríguez’s Christian faith at work in how he holds himself and his fellow players to a high standard: “Sean is driven by a love for Christ and his teammates.”

Rodríguez credits many for his perseverance, but especially his wife. “Giselle is not only beautiful, but has a heart for Jesus like I’ve never seen,” he says. When he travels, Giselle brings the kids to wherever Rodríguez is so that the family never spends a week apart.

The ballplayer is part of a texting group of about 10 players reading through the Bible together, and he recently attended a Pro Athletes Outreach event designed to exhort players in Christ.

Rodríguez says his parents profoundly influenced him: “My mom is a spiritual stronghold.” His dad, who became a Christian the year Rodríguez was born, taught him baseball isn’t who he is, it’s what he does. Rodríguez concurs: “Baseball is a platform for my faith.”