Three years of sacrifice for three seconds of glory. That seems worth it to Danielle Rodriguez.
Many of her Arizona softball teammates get more at-bats in a weekend than she’s had in a career. The coaches haven’t even asked her to take pregame infield warm-ups for most of the season. Simply not needed.
And yet she is ready. Always ready. Every practice. Every game. Every day.
“I have always been taught by my parents to work your hardest and do your best at everything you do,” said Rodriguez, a walk-on senior whose role with the Wildcats is as a pinch-runner.
“I come out to practice every day just thinking ‘game situation.’ You never know when you’re going to be called upon. Just like last year.”
Yes. Last year. It’s legend already. Game 2 of the championship series against Tennessee. Top of the 10th inning.
Rodriguez, the last pinch-runner off the bench, was on third base. One out. The instructions: Run like crazy on anything hit on the ground.
Adrienne Acton hit a bouncer to short. Rodriguez broke for home. Shortstop Liane Horiuchi threw to catcher Shannon Doepking, who had dropped her left leg on the ground, completely blocking home plate.
Rodriguez dived to her right, around the block, arching away from the sweeping tag, stretching for the plate with her left hand, hoping to touch any little bit of it. One finger got one tiny part of the tip. Safe.
Arizona went on to win 1-0, forcing a deciding third game. The Wildcats won that 5-0 to capture the school’s eighth Women’s College World Series and second in a row.
“She probably has the most famous slide in UA softball history,” said interim head coach Larry Ray. “It kind of put her on the map.”
When the Arizona seniors were honored last weekend after this season’s final home game, the script accompanying Rodriguez’s introduction simply referred to the play as “The Slide.”
It takes a special kind of person to grind away every day at practice, not knowing when – or if – there will be any kind of tangible reward.
Walk-ons, the good ones, can live with that and never say a word.
Rodriguez played in one of every six UA games last season, never getting an at-bat. And yet the Wildcats might not have won the national title without her three-second dash-and-dive.
“Not many people can do what she does,” Ray said.
“Every year we sit down with our walk-ons and we ask them if this is what they really want to do. Danielle could certainly play at a lot of places in the country. All our walk-ons could.
“She is the type of individual who is just happy contributing. She loves Tucson. She wants to be here. She never says a harsh word.
“She gives her best every day. Truly. By being who she is, she makes everyone just work a little harder.”
Rodriguez, from Tucson High, arrived at UA in 2004 on an academic scholarship. After a year of just being a student, she missed softball.
She tried out for the team in the fall. No thanks, the coaches said.
Later, they changed their minds and called back.
“I’m glad she was the type of individual who would accept that,” Ray said.
“Some people would be disgruntled after the first ‘No.’ ”
Said Rodriguez: “I was lucky to get this opportunity.”
She has two singles in 15 career at-bats. She had never recorded a putout or an assist until last weekend’s Senior Day when Ray was intent, winning or losing, to give Rodriguez the only full game of her career.
She went 0 for 3, handling four chances at second base without an error.
“We feel like we owe them for all their hard work, regardless of the outcome,” Ray said of starting a walk-on on Senior Day. “They have earned that opportunity.”
With a grade-point average of about 3.5, Rodriguez is a year away from her degree in physical education. Her softball time, meanwhile, is measured in days.
Arizona opens the postseason Friday morning in a four-team regional in Hempstead, N.Y., trying to advance to next week’s super regional.
Beyond that is the College World Series, where Rodriguez already has made a memory of a lifetime.
“It really is worth it,” Rodriguez said of being a walk-on. “I love being here. I love being so close to my family. I have great friends here. And who wouldn’t want two national championships? That’s pretty amazing.”
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hofstra NCAA Regional
Friday’s opening-day games at Hempstead, N.Y.: Arizona vs. Canisius, 9 a.m. ; Hofstra vs. Long Island, 11:30 a.m.
> Complete schedule, 7C
Visit www.tucsoncitizen.com Friday for a recap of Arizona’s contest against Canisius on Friday morning. The web site www.hofstra.edu/athletics/softball has links to live stats and a streaming radio broadcast from Canisius.