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MLB

New York Mets sign Vineland High School graduate

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Joe Joe Rodriguez said he always referred to himself as “just a kid with a big dream.”

The New York Mets purchased Rodriguez’s contract from the Trenton Thunder of the MLB Draft League on Thursday. The Draft League consists of college players and serves as a showcase for draft-eligible prospects and undrafted players who are out of college eligibility.

“Now, I can officially say that quote has come to an end. My dream has been fulfilled,” Rodriguez said by telephone Friday.

Rodriguez, a 2017 Vineland High School graduate, was in Florida on Friday, where he underwent a physical. He was expected to sign with New York on Saturday and expects to report next week to the St. Lucie Mets, New York’s Single-A affiliate in Florida.

Rodriguez was 2-2 with a 2.17 ERA in 10 starts for the Thunder. His fastball hit 95 mph, according to MLB Pipeline reporter Jacob Resnick.

“It was kind of unexpected, but it was an unbelievable feeling, man. It’s just ... yeah. I’m lost for words! I can tell you that,” he said.

Rodriguez grew up a Yankees fan in a family split rooting for the Yankees and Mets. His father, Jose, is the lone Phillies fan in the bunch, but even he will convert to wearing the orange and blue.

“Let’s just say I’m a diehard Mets fan now,” Rodriguez joked.

Rodriguez is the ninth former Rowan College of South Jersey-Cumberland player to sign a professional contract since 2014. That list includes injured Minnesota Twins pitcher Cody Stashak, an Oakcrest High School alum.

Rodriguez helped the Dukes win the Division III Junior College National Championship in 2019. He was 8-2 with 65 strikeouts in 54⅓ innings.

Rodriguez was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 20th round (594th overall) but did not sign. Instead, he went on to pitch three years at St. John’s University in New York.

Rodriguez’s coach at RCSJC, Keith Gorman, who now coaches at Barton College in North Carolina, tweeted: “So happy for @TheRealJoeJoe17! Great story: Came into JUCO 83-85. Left 92-93. Reds take him in 20th round. Turns down good money to get a degree and get better. Now he has a Master’s degree and a professional baseball contract with the @mets. #NationalChampion”

Rodriguez was grateful for the opportunity he had at St. John’s. Following his career there, he was invited to pitch in the first half of the MLB Draft League. He was offered a second-half contract by Trenton if he went undrafted in the June draft, so he didn’t expect the Mets to swoop in and purchase his contract.

Rodriguez is trying to enjoy the moment, especially after the difficult times his family endured the past couple of years.

Right before Christmas in 2020, his younger brother, Ayden Rodriguez, suddenly died. Toward the end of June, his younger cousin, Nathaniel Figueroa, drowned in Ocean City.

“So many crazy things that you look at from an outside perspective and say ‘you didn’t give up,’” Rodriguez said. “Just the fight to go out and the way I took it day by day. I’m just blessed for this opportunity.”

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I graduated from Rowan University in 2011 where I studied journalism. I covered local high school and college sports at the South Jersey Times and Vineland Daily Journal. I have been a sports reporter with The Press since July 2013

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