Here’s why Seattle might have to share Julio Rodriguez with the rest of the nation

Everything is there for Julio Rodriguez.

He’s set to take full ownership of the city of Seattle, which has a vacant sports idol vacancy with the trade of Russell Wilson and the impending retirement of Sue Bird. He is the right person at the right time. You can already see the adoration growing, one smile, one home run and one stolen base at a time.

The kid – and at 21 he’s still a kid, even though his talents are maturing – has the kind of natural charisma that hasn’t been seen in these parts since, dare I say it, The Kid. Ken Griffey Jr., still the gold standard of Seattle sports superstars. Julio, like Griffey, is making baseball cool again. Julio, like Griffey, has the “it” factor that cannot be defined and cannot be faked. You just know it when you see it. And Rodriguez oozes “that”.

And just like with Griffey, it feels like we’re going to have to share J-Rod very, very soon. It is on the verge of becoming a national presence. Rodriguez has the growing potential to be the elusive “face of baseball” – capital F, capital B – that the sport has been seeking for so long.

It will, of course, depend on Rodriguez taking the next step from a great rookie year to full-fledged superstardom. But have you seen anything that makes you think that ascension is not in the natural order of things, and is actually happening right before our eyes? Every day, it seems, J-Rod does something on the baseball field that just makes you shake your head in wonder.

Next week, Rodriguez will make his national debut as the Mariners’ only All-Star and a Home Run Derby entrant. As manager Scott Servais said this week, “This is Julio’s world, and we’re all up for the ride.”

I have no idea what Rodriguez will do in the derby; it’s an event that can bring the best punchers to their knees. But I just have a hunch that he’s going to rise to the occasion like he has so often. It could be the launch pad, not just for some tape measure shots, but for the legendary machines of our modern lives – and it could be accelerated in-game on Tuesday.

The time has come for Rodriguez. If the Mariners can lead their hot streak to a true playoff spot (and yes, we’ll all believe it when we see it, having been teased with that possibility too many times), the scene would be even brighter. Seattle is Julio’s hometown and the Mariners become his team.

And here’s the best part. He does all of this in a genuine, unaffected and completely endearing way. Rodriguez’s teammates aren’t put off by the rookie’s emergence; they are energized by it. Starting pitcher Robbie Ray, who has the sensibilities of a veteran, marvels at how Rodriguez “plays the game the right way” – the ultimate old-school compliment.

Rodriguez is completely comfortable in his skin, or at least seems to be. While Alex Rodriguez, another young phenom who took Seattle by storm, turned out to have more weaknesses than initially thought – the character was largely a front, as has been revealed. over time – Julio Rodriguez seems much more authentic. It would be a shock if J-Rod turned into A-Rod.

The spotlight does not discourage him; he seems to savor it and flourish in it. That separates Rodriguez even from Griffey, who bristled at the constant scrutiny that ultimately stifled much of his trademark joy. It’s hard to see that happening to Rodriguez, who by all appearances loves being a superstar.

Of course, it’s still early in the game, and everything is new and exciting. Let’s see what happens when attention doubles, and redoubles, then quadruples. And also when the inevitable nine-figure contract is awarded (by the way, the Mariners should get on it).

But I’d like to think that Rodriguez is tough enough to withstand potential superstar pitfalls. As Times reporter Ryan Divish recently said when we were discussing J-Rod’s meteoric rise, the joy and exuberance come from a good place.

And so far, he hasn’t wavered. Not when he was anointed as a potential Mariners savior while still at A-ball, not during the Kevin Mather incident, not when he hit .206 without a homer in April, not when he was suspended afterwards. the Angels brawl for reasons still unclear, and not when he nosedived the other day to thwart a triple safe – he laughed as hard as anyone on the rib.

In many ways, baseball needs Julio Rodriguez, a bilingual star who exudes charisma and commands attention. Wherever he goes on the road this year, fans are already screaming his name – and he’s doing his best to welcome them.

The best player in the game, Mike Trout, is a nice, well-meaning guy, but just not interested in embracing all facets of being an ambassador for the sport (which is fine, it’s not a job requirement). His teammate, the wonderfully talented Shohei Ohtani, is a unicorn, doing things no one in history has done; however, the language barrier makes it difficult to fully embrace it.

Julio Rodriguez has the potential – and it’s still only a potential – to be everything. Right now, he’s ours. But soon, he may be the one of the world.

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