I will always have a special place in my baseball fan life, and my personal life, for Pudge Rodriguez.
Not because he signed as a free agent with my team, the Detroit Tigers, a team Pudge made relevant once again just by signing his name.
That four year contract was the start of the Tigers as we know them today, even though Rodriguez has been gone several years now.
He was the start, bringing a business attitude and excitement the Tigers needed
That in itself makes Pudge special for Tigers fans, but for me, and my future wife, he would become something very special between us.
In the spring of 2005 my now wife and I had been dating for a few months when she came over to my apartment on night with dinner.
I had the Tigers game on TV, and as Rodriguez was coming to bat, Mario Impemba says..."that brings Pudge Rodriquez to the plate."
All my future wife heard was "Pudge," and that got her upset.
"How rude," she says, that's not a nice thing to say about someone."
Now, we baseball fans know why he's called "Pudge," we know it's a badge of honor, as it was with Pudge Fisk of the Red Sox back in the 1970's, one Hall of Fame catcher to another who would one day be in the HOF.
Before that moment, my future wife, Tracy , had no idea who Pudge Rodriguez was, why he was called that, or any other things about baseball.
She knew I was a Tigers fan, and that was it.
However, from that point on, a few things happened.
First, I had the opportunity to teach someone about the great game of baseball, including why Rodriguez was given his nickname.
Second, it made me look smart to someone I was dating, and that is always good.
Third, and the most important, I guess, is that Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez made himself a fan for life with Tracy (well...she didn't like him as a Yankee at all.), a fan who knew nothing about him, or baseball, until that night back in 2005.
In 2006 we ventured down to Lakeland, Florida for a Spring Training game at the Tigers home, Joker Marchant Stadium, and Tracy was just as excited to see Pudge play as I must have been some 40+ years ago when I was watching Bill Freehan, my hero, for the first time.
The story I tell you is what makes baseball special, the story telling, the teaching, the love of the game passed on down.
Pudge Rodriguez was a Hall of Fame catcher long before that chance encounter through the TV seven years ago, but the bond he created between myself and Tracy, through baseball, is part of our history together, as it will be forever, and for that, I'm forever grateful to him.