The last time I saw Manuel Rodriguez was in Bay City.
I had gone to football practice and he stopped by to visit with Bay City head coach Robert Jones.
Many of my meetings with Rodriguez just seemed to happen, but most involved baseball.
The time I went to Fairgrounds Park in La Grange when Homer Bailey and Weimar’s Kenn Kasparek were pitching in the season opener, or the time I stopped at a convenience store in Beeville late at night after covering a baseball playoff game at Joe Hunter Field and — I have no idea why this sticks in my mind — he bought me a Pepsi Vanilla for the ride home.
More recently, I would often see Rodriguez at Riverside Stadium where he would watch his oldest son, Dalton, play catcher for UHV.
Running into Rodriguez at a baseball game came as no great surprise since so much of his life revolved around the sport.
Rodriguez, 53, died Sept. 3 of complications from COVID-19. He is survived by his wife, Missy, sons Dalton and Brock, and granddaughter, Brooklynn.
He was the starting shortstop for Victoria Stroman’s 1985 state championship team, and the 1986 team that advanced to the state semifinal.
I doubt anyone who saw him on the field at Stroman will forget the way he played the game.
He was the embodiment of Hodie Ball, the aggressive, fundamental approach the Raiders adapted under coach Hodie Garcia.
“I really enjoyed coaching him,” Garcia said. “He was the type of kid who wanted to win. He was willing to pay whatever price he needed to pay to be a winner.”
Rodriguez hit .306 with 40 stolen bases in 1985, but his junior season was just a preview of what was to come.
Rodriguez led the Raiders as a senior with a .465 average, scored 55 runs and stole 61 bases, which is second all-time in Texas history.
Rodriguez shares the state record for career stolen bases with 110.
“It was just the way he played the game,” said former Victoria West coach Manuel Alvarado, a teammate of Rodriguez at Stroman. “He went all out all the time. He showed his leadership and he was just a real competitive guy. He made everybody better around him. He was really aggressive and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Alvarado played second base and formed a bond with Rodriguez that played an important role in Stroman’s success.
“When you have two people playing the middle, you build a camaraderie and a friendship,” Alvarado said. “You like for them to be compatible and I think we were. He made me better and I made him better.”
Rodriguez played in the Texas High School Baseball Association’s All-Star Game before going on to play in college at Mary Hardin-Baylor.
He coached at Bay City where he taught Spanish, and coached and taught at Van Vleck before becoming a major league scout.
Rodriguez scouted a number of players around the state, but never forgot his roots.
His impact on baseball in the area will be felt for years to come.
“He was a team player and a leader on the team,” Garcia said. “He wanted things done right. He didn’t take any shortcuts. He was what I needed and what the team needed.”