JUCO Softball: Hurdles no match for Rodriguez

Christopher's Mari Rodriguez bats during their first round Central Coast Section Division II playoff game against Pioneer.

GILROY—Though a picture from her signing day hangs in Mariza Rodriguez’s bedroom, she still finds it hard to believe it actually happened. Life has thrown the Gavilan sophomore plenty of curveballs—in the form of injuries, ineligibility and a learning disability—but each time she swung and knocked them out of the park.
All of the hurdles Rodriguez faced only made signing her letter of intent Aug. 6 to play softball at La Sierra University in Riverside that much sweeter. She admitted feeling nervous beforehand, but said she knew deep down joining the Golden Eagles is the right fit for her.
“It’s another opportunity for me to play another two years,” Rodriguez said. “This has always been a dream of mine and it’s crazy, I’m livin’ it.”
La Sierra first caught wind of Rodriguez at the annual California Community College Athletic Association Sophomore Showcase and got in touch with her shortly after. She visited the campus, talked with the coaches and began to picture herself as a Golden Eagle. And when La Sierra University made her an offer, she said she knew she couldn’t pass it up.
Rodriguez has been working towards a collegiate scholarship since she took up softball with Gilroy Little League at 8 years old. She found success with travel ball teams, but it wasn’t until she reached Christopher High School that she realized getting a scholarship wouldn’t be an easy feat.
As a freshman, Rodriguez was academically ineligible to compete and soon after was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
“After that year I was like ‘heck no.’ I didn’t like the feeling of not being able to play my sport,” she said. “I struggled academically because I have ADHD…but it never really stopped me. After being told I can’t play, I turned it around and got a 3.0 the rest of my high school career.”
A refocused Rodriguez played her sophomore year with the Cougars before suffering the first of two torn labrums in her shoulder, which cut her junior year cut short. She tore the other her senior year and had to undergo a second shoulder surgery that took her out of commission for her senior season, too.
Rodriguez was down, but not out.
Rams coach Nikki Dequin said Rodriguez entered Gavilan with a sense of determination and worked tirelessly in and out of the classroom. Rodriguez helped the Rams to its first Coast Conference Championship in 30 years her freshman year and led her team in several categories this season. She led in hits with 42, RBIs with 35 and home runs with four.
She was a leader not only on the diamond, but off the field, too. Dequin said Rodriguez held her classmates accountable for their work and devoted her spare time to helping other athletic programs on campus. Her impact at Gavilan could be seen on her special day as members other teams and athletic department turned out to support her as she signed.
“She’s been a leader in our program for the last two years and it’s apparent. It’s not just softball. If you look at the people who were there on signing day, there were athletes from other sports represented,” the Rams coach Dequin said. “She just truly has developed all the way around, not just as an athlete. (Rodriguez) is a unique individual.”
Rodriguez joins a Golden Eagle squad that looks to right the ship after a 11-37 season and her powerful bat will bolster their offense. Her time at Gavilan will never be far from her mind because each time she steps up to the plate, she said she’ll still hear Coach Dequin in her head.
“She always tells me ‘a full head is an empty bat.’ If I’m thinking ‘I gotta hit, I gotta hit, I gotta hit,’ I’m not going to have a good outcome,” Rodriguez said. “When I go up to bat, I always hear her say that.”