Former Baylor baseball coach Steve Rodriquez brings upbeat attitude to Texas

Jordan Mitchell, Sports Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the July 19, 2022 flipbook.

Steve Rodriguez, recently hired hitting coach and recruiting coordinator, has always played with a chip on his shoulder. 

His motivation doesn’t stem from his former Baylor baseball team being the first squad left out of the NCAA Tournament in 2021 or the abrupt end to a promising 2020 season at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of his short stature.

“I’m 5-foot-8,” Rodriguez said in a media availability before the 2022 season. “There’s always a chip on my shoulder. … I can bring back ‘chips’ from 15 years ago if I really wanted to.”

Interviewing Rodriguez never makes for a dull moment, according to Michael Haag, baseball reporter for Baylor Lariat. The former middle infielder for the Boston Red Sox has a natural charisma about him, using every opportunity to crack jokes and get personal with reporters, Haag said. 

“Even when we tease him and impersonate him (as reporters), you can tell he cares and really listens to what you’re saying,” Haag said.

The camaraderie that Rodriguez shared with the Baylor baseball reporters mirrors the relationship shared between his coaching staff and his players. Known as a “players’ coach,” Rodriguez’s athletes enjoy playing for him, even through underwhelming 26–28 seasons.

Baylor starting pitcher Will Rigney said that Rodriguez and the coaching staff never gave up on him as a player, despite going down with two back-to-back season-ending injuries.

“All the (Baylor) coaches, they stuck with me,” Rigney said in March. “A lot of coaches around the country would have sent me off on my way, and I (would’ve) had to go find somewhere else to play. But that’s what I respect most about coach (Jon) Strauss, coach (Mike) Taylor (and) coach Rod. They’re great people, and they’re great coaches.”

Rigney’s emergence as the Sunday starting pitcher following the slew of injuries is a testament to Rodriguez’s player development. In addition to Rigney’s growth, middle infielders Jack Pineda and Tre Richardson made notable strides in 2022, leading the NCAA in double plays during the season. 

“Coach Rod has a knack for developing players to reach their full potential and is an absolute home run hire for Texas Baseball,” Texas head coach David Pierce said in a statement July 7.

Pierce also noted that Rodriguez knows how to win with integrity. Despite having a season that didn’t live up to expectations, the Bears always maintained a fun and positive energy in the dugout, seemingly immune to discouragement or pessimism.

“It speaks a lot about who (Rodriguez) is as a leader,” Haag said. “Guys weren’t just hanging their heads and feeling defeated, they would maintain that same approach like they were up 3-0 versus being down 3-0. That honestly led to several great comebacks.”

Aside from developing his athletes on the field, Rodriguez also encouraged them to be role models off the field. Rodriguez said that he would get emails from people raving about how his players would conduct acts of service within the Waco community, such as reading to young children, without being told to do so. 

“I mean it really means a lot to know that they’re not forced to do a lot of things, but they love going out and doing it,” Rodriguez said. “I think there’s a great testament and a neat ability to be a person who can do that.”

Haag believes that Rodriguez’s commitment to the players and his near 20 years of coaching experience will allow him to flourish as Texas’ new hitting coach.

“He’s super enjoyable to be around (and has such a) positive energy,” Haag said. “I think he’s going to be in a great position at Texas to not be the head honcho, because he’s going to be around making personal relationships with the guys.”