About nine months ago, Melissa Rodriguez was attending grade school in her native Dominican Republic when she learned that her family was planning to join her grandmother in the United States.
“I was sad when I came here,” Rodriguez said through interpreter Danny Ortiz, the bilingual social studies teacher at Ferris High School in Jersey City. “The way of life was way different. I wasn’t going to see my friends and family again. I also was sad because of the weather. I didn’t like the cold weather.”
But then Rodriguez started to become more comfortable with her new surroundings, especially her new school.
“It was better for us for economic reasons, better for my education, just more opportunities overall,” Rodriguez said. “It was new chapter of my life with new people and new friends.”
Rodriguez played both baseball and softball in her native land – doesn’t everybody in the DR? – so she was happy to learn that Ferris offered a softball team.
“I heard it was a very popular sport here, so I didn’t know if I was going to fit in,” Rodriguez said. “I was kind of shy and didn’t know what to do.”
But Ferris head softball coach Mike Palughi certainly knew what to do when he saw Rodriguez play.
“I heard stories about her, but I wanted to see for myself,” Palughi said. “Once I saw her in practice, I knew right away. In batting practice, she hit three balls over the fence. She was one of the best players I ever saw. She showed me right away that she could play.”
Rodriguez was certainly not shy about her abilities.
“I was confident I could play right away,” Rodriguez said. “I was not surprised. I knew I could do it.”
Palughi, who lost seven starters from last year’s team that went to the Hudson County Tournament final, was willing to welcome anyone who could help his program. He had no idea he was acquiring the services of a star.
“She also has one of the strongest arms I’ve ever seen playing shortstop,” Palughi said. “Just by the way she throws, I could tell that she knew what she was doing.”
Rodriguez has been very determined since she became a member of the Bulldogs.
“I’m very focused all the time,” Rodriguez said. “I’m in the zone all the time.”
Over the last week, Rodriguez has displayed just how locked in she truly is.
She recorded three hits, scored three runs and had two RBI in a big 11-1 victory over Hoboken, collected three hits and two RBI in a 14-1 decision over Kearny, produced four hits, including two triples and a homer, and five RBI in a thrilling 14-13 victory over North Bergen and finished with two hits and four RBI in a 19-3 victory over Hillside.
That’s some week, for sure.
And for her efforts, Rodriguez has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
For the season, Rodriguez has a .606 batting average with 20 hits and an astounding 26 RBI with five doubles, three triples and four home runs.
Needless to say, Rodriguez has been a welcome addition to the Bulldogs’ lineup. Ferris owns a 10-4 record at press time.
“She’s the main reason why we’re 10-4,” Palughi said. “She’s a very disciplined hitter. She makes adjustments on her own. She takes a lot of balls the other way and hits with power.”
And how about this for a statistic? Rodriguez has had more than 50 at-bats and she has yet to strike out once.
Is Rodriguez surprised by her performance?
“I’m not surprised at all,” Rodriguez said. “I think I can do even better. I feel comfortable at the plate.”
But Rodriguez’s outing thus far has caught her coach off-guard.
“I have to admit,” Palughi said. “I’m a little surprised. She’s just a tremendous kid. She has no ego whatsoever.”
Rodriguez has a goal in mind. She would love to play college softball one day. Of course, that means she will have to hit the books and try very hard to learn how to speak English, even with a solid English as a Second Language program.
“I want to play [NCAA] Division I,” Rodriguez said. “First, I want to help our team win the county championship. I want to make the team even better. I’m having so much fun playing.”
Rodriguez was asked if there’s one English term or phrase she has learned.
“I got it,” she said.
She sure does have it. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com