DOVER — If Alec Rodriguez was going to panic, this would have been the time.
The Dover High outfielder was just a freshman, and now it was up to him to keep the Senators’ season alive in the 2018 DIAA baseball state semifinals.
It was the seventh inning, Cape Henlopen was clinging to a one-run lead and Dover — and Rodriguez — were down to their final strike.
“I was a little scared,” remembered Rodriguez, “but I just knew I had to get the job done.”
Rodriguez delivered, coming up with an RBI single to send the contest into extra innings. And even though Cape ended up winning the game in the 10th, that moment still stands as reminder of how dependable he was right from the start.
Now a recent Dover grad, Rodriguez will get to play with the other top seniors in the state in the Blue-Gold All-Star Game on Wednesday evening. The contest is set for 6 p.m. at Caravel Academy.
Rodriguez, who will continue his career at Delaware State, capped off his career by earning first-team All-State honors this spring. He batted .433 with 20 runs, seven doubles, three home runs and 22 RBI as Dover reached the third round of the DIAA state tournament.
“It was always a goal of mine,” Rodriguez said about making All-State. “To get it senior year definitely meant a lot. I was pretty shocked to see my name on the list.”
Rodriguez’ accomplishment is proof of the potential that Senators’ coach Dave Gordon first saw in the youngster with the long, flowing hair when he was a freshman.
“He definitely stuck out right away on how he swung the bat,” said Gordon. “He just looked the part. We gave him a chance early on in scrimmages and he was probably our best hitter after pre-season.
“We said there’s no way this kid’s going to play JV. ... His freshman year, we knew he was going to go through some bumps. But, man, he was unbelievable.”
A product of Campus Community, Rodriguez hadn’t even played school ball until he got to high school. But that freshman season, the former Dover Little Leaguer had a big bases-loaded triple in a state tournament win over top-seeded William Penn.
Of course, that was followed by his clutch, seventh-inning hit against Cape a few games later.
“It was a big moment for a freshman,” said Gordon. “Our season could end on the next pitch and he laced a line drive to left field. He kept it going for us.”
In that first year, Rodriguez hit .397 with 20 runs and 15 RBI. He was a .381 career hitting for the Senators, with 58 runs, 44 RBI, 14 doubles and five homers.
But Rodriguez almost had his senior season come to a premature end.
With five games left in the regular season, with the bases loaded, Rodriguez hit a ball off the wall in a contest against William Penn.
“I brought everybody home,” said Gordon, who was coaching at third. “Then, once the third kid ran by me, I’m like, ‘Where’s Alec at?’ I look back at first and he’s crawling back — like an army crawl.”
“It was really frightening,” said Rodriguez. “My senior season, I didn’t want it to end like that.”
Rodriguez had strained his hip flexor. The injury was bad enough that Dover moved him to DH and then third base so he didn’t have to run as much.
In some ways, though, it helped Rodriguez stay back in his stride to the ball when he was batting. He hit three homers and three doubles down the stretch.
“He looked like Kirk Gibson out there in ‘88,” joked Gordon, referring to the former L.A. Dodger star who famously limped around the bases after hitting a World Series home ===run. “He hit a double off the wall against Delmarva Christian and he walked all the way to second base basically.”
More than his abilities, Gordon said Rodriguez’ attitude always made him a pleasure to be around for the past four years.
“He was just such a great teammate and such a great player to coach,” said Gordon. “When he came to the field, he would shake everybody’s hand and say hello. And when he left, he always shook everybody’s hand and said goodbye. You don’t see that a lot these days.”
Gordon is hoping that combination of ability and attitude will keep paying off for Rodriguez in college. He’s hoping his best years are still in front of him.
“It was always my dream to play ‘D-I,’ ” said Rodriguez. “It’s always hard to play at the next level. I’m trying to excel at DSU.”