A teacher and coach, Dartmouth’s Joshua Rodrigues loves the game

A teacher and coach, Dartmouth’s Joshua Rodrigues loves the game

As a development coach with the Norfolk Tides, Dartmouth native Joshua Rodrigues finds himself a part of one of minor league baseball’s hottest teams. After winning the International League championship last season, this team from coastal Virginia is continuing its trajectory of success, winning seven of its first eight games of the season.

The Triple-A farm team for the Baltimore Orioles, the Tides are the equivalent of the Worcester Woo Sox, the minor league team affiliated with the Red Sox. Triple-A teams are the last rung on the baseball ladder before a player gets the opportunity to prove themselves in the major leagues. And while Rodrigues may not be on the field with a glove and a bat, he harbors ambitions of his own major league dreams in the coaching ranks.

As he begins his third year with Norfolk, the 35-year-old isn’t just using his youthful experiences on the baseball diamond. He’s also relying on what he’s learned from his years in the classroom — for four years Rodrigues taught instructional technology at Sandwich High School on Cape Cod, simultaneously making his coaching debut with the school’s freshman baseball team. He would go on to teach another six years at Dartmouth and Seekonk. Rodrigues’ first big baseball break came in January 2019 when he landed a job in baseball operations for the Tampa Bay Rays, a role he would hold for a year. After a return to teaching, he landed the coaching position with Norfolk in 2022. Today he is melding his love for baseball with the insights he has garnered as an educator of young minds, asserting that there are many similarities between the classroom and the baseball field and how you prepare students and athletes for success.

Rodrigues’ on-field experiences include being a catcher in Little League, at Dartmouth High School and in the American Legion. Despite not earning a spot on his college squad, Rodrigues never gave up on his passion for the sport, and remained involved in the game as an umpire and coach, working with the Wareham Gatemen and Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod League, UMass Dartmouth, Salve Regina, and Old Colony Vocational High School.  

“Josh is high energy, he’s a lot of fun,” says Joe Botelho, manager of player development, technology and initiatives for the Baltimore Orioles’ organization and who oversees Rodrigues. “He comes to the ballpark every day ready to work with a lot of curiosity, and he asks good questions. He works his butt off and the players know he’s there to make them get better.”

Born in New Bedford and a product of the Dartmouth public school system, Rodrigues has a bachelor’s degree in history and a masters in instructional technology, both from Bridgewater State University. He spends nine months a year with the Tides before returning to Dartmouth in the offseason, to be with his wife Audrey and their cat, Cinnamon.

Rodigues spoke with the New Bedford Light about the challenges and rewards of being a professional baseball coach, the enjoyment of seeing young athletes make it to the major leagues, the virtues of his experiences as a teacher, and the lessons he’s learned about professional baseball.

New Bedford Light: What does a development coach do?

Josh Rodrigues: You’re kind of a jack of all trades. It’s a little bit of quality control, you’re making sure everything’s being done to the highest level it possibly can — from how we practice on the field to how the day flows for the players, to organizing the schedule, to helping with data analysis and simplifying it for the staff and players.

But also, in my position with a teaching background, we lead these fundamental meetings every day. I think the most important part of my job is to stand in front of 15 hitters and go over what happened, and why it happened, and use my teaching skills to help teach the players how we can attack this problem … It’s very multi-faceted.

I just want to be a good coach for a long time. And I just know that at some point I hope to be on a big league staff in some capacity, but my main focus is just being a good coach for as long as I can.

Joshua Rodrigues

I still think I’m a teacher at heart, I’m just doing it with older people — people who are very skilled at what they do. But the rest of what we do with the Orioles is we still view ourselves as teachers just as much as coaches. We just try to help everyone to get better.

NBL: How do you apply your teaching experiences to your baseball job in Norfolk?

JR: I rely on them heavily. Every single day I’m using them in some capacity. The same way that we would ask students to think in a classroom is the same way we ask players to think on the baseball field. We’re asking really critical questions, we’re really trying to design meetings that are engaging, are interesting for the players and will hopefully help us get better. This stuff happens in the big leagues all the time, that is if your player messes something up, there’s an opportunity to learn from those plays and help our players get better.

NBL: Do you aspire to stay in baseball? What are your visions for your career?

JR: Yes. Whenever I’m asked this question I say I just want to be a good coach for a long time. And I just know that at some point I hope to be on a big league staff in some capacity, but my main focus is just being a good coach for as long as I can. I see these guys who have been around for 40 years and you see the traits that they have and I want to replicate that as much as I possibly can.

NBL: How does it feel for you to see a player you’ve coached make it to the big leagues?

JR: It’s really cool. It isn’t something I take for granted. I come from a really humble beginning of coaching high school kids, so to see Joey Ortiz play third base for the Brewers is really cool for me because I got to help him along the way. You hope that the time you spend with them is useful to the player and it helps them improve. But yeah, it’s a really cool experience. It’s not something I take for granted. Everybody on the staff realizes the magnitude of changing somebody’s life by helping them make it to the big leagues.

“I grew up as a humongous Red Sox fan — all the parades when they won. I was heavily invested in all the playoff runs. But I think at some point I have become more of a fan of the players and the game itself than a uniform.” — Dartmouth native Joshua Rodrigues. Credit: Courtesy of Kate Kirsch and the Norfolk Tides

NBL: What does it take for a player to make it to the major leagues?

JR: An unbelievable amount of talent. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve come to learn is that there is a yearning to be the best of the best of the best to make it, first off. But also a hunger to get better. I think you need to have this drive to improve, because I think a lot of guys will get to Triple-A and they think, “I’m here, I’m good.” Then they’ll go to the big leagues for a second and they realize it’s another level of competition they don’t really get to experience in Triple-A. I think it’s one that’s super interesting. I think that they realize very quickly that the amount of hard work that they put in has been really good, but I think that they also realize that they need to challenge themselves in practice even more than they currently are because the level of competition is so great in the big leagues and if you want to stay you need to play really, really well very quickly.

NBL: What do you love about baseball?

JR: I think it’s the game plan of it, the fine nuances — like tagging up in a situation versus not tagging up. We have a one out here versus no outs, how do we want to play this situation? All of these really granular pieces of the game that are really interesting to me. Finding edges in those little pieces is really valuable but I also think that it’s extremely satisfying when we see a situation play out that we’ve gone over, or a situation that we’ve talked about and we execute it perfectly and you can go back to the play tomorrow and be like, “OK, we went over this.”

I just love being on the field and being around the guys, the camaraderie. The locker room with the staff and players is something that I really love. You’re around everybody for so long you get to know every single person at such a level that it’s just like being brothers in a lot of ways.

NBL: What are the challenges and rewards of coaching?

JR: The biggest reward is seeing that players improve in some way, even if they don’t go to the big leagues. I think helping them to get to their goals is literally rewarding to me, and seeing their expressions, seeing them and their families celebrate, seeing the reactions of the players. When a player gets to the big leagues it’s great but I think just helping them get better is a really big reward for me.

And obviously the challenges are multi-faceted. You have players of all different skill levels and you need to think constantly of what you can do to make them better. But also the personal challenges of being away for nine months. Traveling on your off day, those little nuances that everybody might not realize — riding on a bus for five or six hours, maybe 13 hours. Traveling up and down the East Coast to get to a game. Those are the biggest challenges to me. I don’t really see the coaching part as a difficulty, I think that’s the fun part of it.

NBL: Would you like to return to this area to coach someday? Would Worcester be a sweet opportunity, or even the Red Sox?

JR: Like I said before, I just want to coach for a long time. Something local would be amazing, but I really like being with the Orioles. Norfolk has been a good fit for me, I’ve learned a ton. It would be great but it’s not something I’m actively seeking out, honestly. What I look for in a coaching position is the ability to grow, the ability to learn, and the ability to help players in some capacity. But it’s not something that’s at the front of my mind.

NBL: Did you grow up as a Red Sox fan? And if so, do you still root for them? When the Orioles play the Red Sox, who do you root for?

JR: Some guys hold on to their loyalties but I feel that I’m so invested in our players that I’m now actively rooting for the Orioles. When players go to the big leagues I have so much more skin in the game with those guys than I do with the Red Sox. I grew up as a humongous Red Sox fan — all the parades when they won. I was heavily invested in all the playoff runs. But I think at some point I have become more of a fan of the players and the game itself than a uniform.

NBL: Does Hollywood accurately portray minor league baseball? And do you have any favorite baseball movies?

JR: Yeah, I think they do a pretty good job, honestly. I like “Moneyball” and a couple of others. When I think of “Bull Durham” riding in the buses, that’s a pretty good portrayal of it. I think it’s not 100% accurate. You don’t get all the nuances. Living it is much different than the Hollywood portrayal, but at the same time it’s pretty close. 

I think the biggest challenge is that you can’t really mirror the lifestyle of living in a hotel room for six days and make it super interesting. Highlighting the long days when you’re in Jacksonville and it’s hot and you’re on the field for two hours. I don’t know if you can accurately portray it all, but I think it does a pretty good job. 

“Moneyball” is a decent portrayal of what it looks like at the big league level.

NBL: At the end of the day, baseball is a business. What have you learned about the business side of baseball?

JR: I think that the business of baseball is probably the part that is the most misunderstood by the public. It’s very interesting — when you’re in it you’re seeing all of these rules about the roster management and all of these different things and I think it’s a really interesting lesson to learn about the game. You see truly how difficult it is to get to the big leagues and stay in the big leagues. You realize very quickly that it’s not just about talent, it’s about these other factors. …

“The biggest reward is seeing that players improve in some way, even if they don’t go to the big leagues” — Dartmouth native Joshua Rodrigues. Credit: Courtesy of the Norfolk Tides

NBL: Why is it that a coach can be very successful without having been a standout player?

JR: It’s the ability to learn and grow from what you’ve experienced in the past. Being someone who was not a standout player has made me almost more eager to learn what I was missing and more hungry and driven to figure out how to help people to avoid mistakes.

For me it’s created a really interesting dynamic … where I’m always trying to search for anything to help me understand the game better that I might not have understood as a player.

NBL: How does a coach get the best performances out of his players?

JR: Putting the players in situations where they’re able to execute the things you want them to do and you’re highlighting what makes them unique. You’re trying to avoid situations where they potentially won’t excel. And I think to go along with that, it’s getting to know them as a person, getting to know who they are as a player, building a strong relationship with them. Getting to know each player individually, knowing who they are, what they go through in terms of their family, where they’ve been in the past — it goes a long way with them. So making them very psychologically safe is a big thing for us as an organization and something I think that I pay a lot of attention to.

NBL: How would you describe the minor league baseball lifestyle?

JR: I think the lifestyle is very interesting. It’s treated in “Bull Durham” pretty well. You get to see the bus ride and the hotels, you’re constantly on the road and your players and your staff basically become your closest friends. You’re with them all day almost every day. The days are long on the field and you’re working very hard, but I think it’s really rewarding when you see your players go to the big leagues or grow in some way.

I don’t think it’s a grind, per se. I think it’s really more of enjoying going to the yard every single day and being around the guys. So for me, I love it, and I think that to work in professional baseball you need to be someone who just loves baseball and loves being around a team, and being around the staff and players in general. You work really hard but the work is really rewarding, and in the end, honestly, I’m coaching a baseball game and it’s a kid’s sport. And it’s something that if you had told me 10 years ago that I would be doing it today, I’d probably be blown away by it. With every single day I’m super grateful to be a coach and to be with the Orioles and get the experiences I’ve had over the last three years.

I work in baseball, but I’m still a teacher. I shied away from it for a while, the fact that I taught, and now I just dive in headfirst — the fact that I was a teacher, the fact that I can stand in front of a group of 20 to 30 guys who are well paid and be like, “Hey guys, we messed up in this direction. This is how we can fix it.” It’s a really valuable skill to have.

Sean McCarthy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The New Bedford Light.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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