Julio Rodriguez's Rise to Stardom Continues to Get Brighter


LOS ANGELES — As Ty France searched for an opening to get to his locker in the embarrassing closet that is the visitors clubhouse in Dodger Stadium, he understood that it wouldn't be simple given who was in the middle of the crowd.

In the middle of the scrum of bodies, Julio Rodriguez was answering questions about his performance in the Home Run Derby, a rookie season that has earned him a spot on the All-Star team and likely the American League Rookie of the Year award and an official coronation as Seattle's biggest sport star.

"It's still Julio's world it looks like," France is told.

"Always," he said. "And it's going to be for a very long time."

France finally found a way to wiggle his linebacker-sized body through the assembled media to get to his locker next to Rodriguez and grab his gear for batting practice before Tuesday's All-Star Game.

Less than 24 hours after a stunning runner-up performance in the Home Run Derby and announcing his presence as baseball's next young superstar, Rodriguez was the center of attention.

"I feel like I just came out to do what I do," he said. "I guess they know me a little more. I've just gotta keep on going, keep on staying focused and staying within myself in the way that I have been doing. I'm just being me."

Being Julio Rodriguez is easy. At age 21, he has a mature understanding of who he is and what he wants to be in baseball. He's completely comfortable in the spotlight because he doesn't change his personality for it.

Of course, he still gets a little wide-eyed at times.

When Steph Curry quote tweeted a picture of Rodriguez wearing the NBA star's signature shoes, saying: "I see the kicks, J-Rod! Good luck tonight ??," he was stunned. Utah Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell tweeted during the Home Run Derby: "This kid Julio Rodriguez is nice!!"

"It's crazy because I'm a pretty big basketball fan and a big fan of those guys," Rodriguez said. "It was just amazing to see that my name was thrown out by players like that."

Both Curry and Rodriguez have shoe deals with Under Armour. Rodriguez had custom-made spikes for the game.

On the toe of his right shoe were the words, "If you can dream it, you can believe it" and on the toe of his left shoe was his favorite saying: "Don't let anyone set your limits."

While Rodriguez's popularity has skyrocketed among baseball fans outside the Pacific Northwest, his fellow MLB players have already taken notice.

"Julio is unbelievable," said Mike Trout. "Just got all the tools, all the hype. You know, he's fun to watch."

The two have had multiple conversations over the past two days in Los Angeles.

"He plays the game the right way," Trout said. "He's always got a smile on his face and he reminds me of myself when I first came up."

Rangers lefty Martin Perez was still shaking his head about Rodriguez turning a 96-mph fastball at the top of the strike zone from Jose Leclerc into a grand slam in Texas.

"He showed me that he's really good," Perez said. "I was like, 'Wow, this kid is gonna be a superstar. The big thing is because his mentality is that he's a winner."

Asked about Rodriguez, Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara laughed.

"He's great," Alcantara said. "What can I say, he hit his first homer off me."

Indeed, on May 1 in Miami, Rodriguez smashed a 97-mph sinker off the facing of the upper deck in deep left-center for a three-run homer in a 7-4 victory. The homer traveled 450 feet.

"That day I was so mad because I mean, I threw my best pitch against him," said Alcantara, who gave up a season-high five runs that game. "He was ready for it and he hit a big homer."

Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano was told all about Rodriguez by former teammate Ryan Borucki.

"It's not just his physical talent, but he has the makeup to be a superstar, the work ethic and a super nice guy,'" Romano said of the scouting report.

Then Romano saw it first-hand in Seattle.

"I think the first thing I noticed was his arm," Romano said. "I think he threw one about 100 miles an hour from the outfield. And then we saw his speed too, and then the bat — he had a double, a couple of singles. When you think about him, he's a five-tool player, an absolute physical specimen. I think he's gonna be great for years to come."

How great?

"Incredible, incredible," said Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

"Star," said Justin Verlander.

"He's special," said Manny Machado.

How special?

Trout summed it up: "He's great for the game of baseball."