Lakeland, Fla. – When Miguel Cabrera strode to the plate in the first inning Friday, the music that accompanied him was unfamiliar. It wasn’t his usual walk-up song.
It was rap, with a Latino beat, lyrics in Spanish sung rapid-fire and the singer’s voice was oddly familiar. It is a voice you can often hear in the back corner of the Tigers clubhouse.
Yo, Ronny Rodriguez raps.
Well, the hundreds of thousands who have viewed his videos on YouTube certainly did. His boyhood buddies in the Dominican did, as did his high school friends from the Boston area.
Ronny Rodriguez, who is fighting for a utility role with the Tigers, raps. And he raps well.
“I do it for fun,” he said. “I have a studio back home and I have a friend who helps me (with the videos). He’s kind of like a professional movie maker. We did that at my apartment back in the Dominican.”
The video, ‘Vivencias De La Vida Real,’ has garnered some attention in the Latin music community, particularly in the Dominican. He said he was going to cut a song soon with Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who also moonlights in the music business.
“I know people have been watching,” he said. “I know I got a lot of views, but I only do it for fun. I am not trying to make money out of it.”
Then he paused for a second.
“But if the money is coming, I will take it,” he said with a laugh.
This is a recurring theme for Rodriguez. He does stuff for fun, and then he finds out he’s got real, bankable talent. It was the same way with baseball. He started playing ball with his buddies in the Dominican and the next thing he knew, he was moving to Boston where his skills could be seen by professional scouts.
It ended up being a painfully hard and heart-breaking journey, and good fodder for his music.
“My dad sent me to America in 2007,” he said. “I went to high school in Boston (Lawrence, Mass.) to play baseball, but I never thought I would be a professional player.”
Rodriguez and his family lived in a small house. When his mother got pregnant, they knew the house would be too small. So they sent Rodriguez, who was 16, back to the Dominican to live with his uncle.
“My uncle used to play baseball (Wilton Chavez, Cubs organization from 1999-2006), he asked, ‘Do you still play baseball?’”
Chavez got Rodriguez a tryout with the Cubs, who have a baseball academy in the Dominican, and they signed him immediately. He was 16 years old and thought he was on his way. Nine months later, he left the academy.
“After nine months, my signing bonus never came to me,” he said. “I decided with my dad to go home.”
That was his first taste of disillusionment. Rodriguez lost his status as an international signee because of the two years he spent at Lawrence. He had to wait a full year to get reestablished and be eligible to receive a signing bonus. A few weeks later he signed with the Royals.
“I went to Kansas City for a month,” he said. “They offered my $325,000 and then they took it down to $50,000 – and I go home again and not play. I said I was done playing baseball. For two months, I didn’t want to play. I was either going to stay here in the Dominican or go back to America and live with my mom and dad.”
Chavez, though, kept after it. He got an agent to work on Rodriguez’s behalf.
“I was tired of playing,” Rodriguez said. “I had played all year around and I didn’t get my signing bonus or anything. That was hard for me. But my uncle got me an agent and I ended up signing with the Indians.”
He began his seven-year climb through the Indians organization in 2011. He spent the last two seasons at Triple-A Columbus. The Tigers signed him to a minor-league deal with an invitation to big-league camp.
He is in a fight with Niko Goodrum, Alexi Amarista and others for one or possibly two open spots on the 25-man roster.
“I said I didn’t want to play anymore and now I am here trying to make my dream come true,” he said.
The lyrics of his songs reflect his journey.
“It’s about my life,” he said. “It’s about what happens in Latin America. Poor kids who want to make their dreams come true, kids who fall out because they don’t have anything else to do. I don’t write them down. They are all up here (pointing to his brain).
“I started singing with my friends back in Boston, like 10 years ago. I started doing it more professionally like five months ago, singing in clubs and stuff. I just do it for fun.”