RALEIGH — N.C. State All-American Carlos Rodon is the face of college baseball, a bulldog in throwback stirrups widely projected to be the first player taken in the June draft.
But theres more to the junior from nearby Holly Springs than throwing 96-mph fastballs past college and international hitters.
Theres fishing, for instance. Baseball America doesnt rank such tools, but it wouldnt surprise anybody who knows him if Rodon has the best casting command in the country, too.
The Wolfpacks ace recently sat down to discuss that and more, breaking into a smile after learning topics would include more than just the welfare of his wildly popular left arm.
Great, Rodon said, before rattling off questions he normally answers. Hows your arm? Hows your slider? Hows your two-seamer? ...
He had no idea, however, hed spend so much time discussing Marlin (his prized clown fish), Jameis Winston (doesnt really remember facing him), his dream position at N.C. State (keep reading) and his favorite fishing spot (youd have better luck trying to hit his fastball than finding it).
But any conversation with Rodon starts with Omaha. Saturday, he and the Wolfpack will get another shot at defending College World Series champion UCLA, which helped eliminate the Wolfpack last June, one seasons ending fueling this seasons goals.
Question: Almost a year ago, you and Trea Turner took a preseason photo for Baseball America about reaching the College World Series in Omaha. Then you did it. When you look at that photo, what are your memories?
Rodon: Storybook, Id say. Couldnt write it out any better than that. Especially against Carolina. It was surreal. Seeing them three months before, I couldnt have told you that were going to play you in the first game in Omaha, but it ended up happening that way. It was a great time.
Q: You came close last year. How much has getting back motivated you?
Rodon: Oh, yeah. Anything less than that is failure. We dont make it to Omaha and its not a successful season.
Q: Thats a narrow margin of error. You guys have embraced that?
Rodon: Thats what Ive embraced, and Im pretty sure all my teammates have embraced the same thing.
Q: We pay attention to you on Twitter. Clearly you have some fun. When does that change, the playful kid to the beast mode guy throwing 96?
Rodon: Definitely when you step between those lines ... it makes you into a different person, for sure. Its just game day. People tell me, you seem different. Just not a nice guy. Put it that way. Real serious. I dont want to talk to anyone. Just try to get in a zone. But thats the way its always been, though, even in high school.
I dont know how I get in that mode. I just change. And I just want to win so bad.
Q: Youre a big guy (6-foot-3, 234 pounds). Im assuming you hit your share of home runs in youth leagues, high school?
Rodon: Yeah, I hit some home runs in high school. Sophomore year (at Holly Springs), a down year in pitching, I hit four. I was an all right hitter, I guess. I wasnt a bad hitter. I just wasnt developed like these guys on our team that really can hit. Theyre just on a different level. I just wasnt there.
Q: So whats a cooler feeling: Hitting a home run or striking out 10?
Rodon: I would say hitting a home run. (He laughs). Chicks dig the long ball.
Q: Better arm, you or Russell?
Rodon: Russell Wilson?
Q: Yeah, better arm, whos got it?
Rodon: I think I do.
Q: What about throwing a football?
Rodon: I think it might be close actually.
Q: How far can you throw it?
Rodon: I havent really tried it in a while, but Ive always been able to throw a football pretty well. I might have the arm strength, but hes an amazing quarterback.
Q: Hitters get walk-up songs. Closers get them. Starters rarely do. What would be yours?
Rodon: We actually do get a walk-up song here, first inning. Not sure yet. Were still trying to figure that out.
Q: You going country?
Rodon: No, were not going country. Were more of a soul-ly, R&B, kind of slow song.
Q: To lull the hitters into the 96?
Rodon: (Laughing) Yeah, catch them off guard.
Q: Saw on Twitter where you bought a nice fish tank. Any symbolism there, considering youre pretty much living in one?
Rodon: (More laughter). I never really thought about it that way. Leave it up to the writers to think about it that way, but no, Ive always liked fishing. My dad used to have them all the time. Its just something thats just a hobby that Ive always done and I just love doing it.
Q: You watch the show Tanked?
Rodon: Yeah, I do watch that show. Thats a cool show.
Q: Is a high-end specialty tank going to be the first purchase with the signing bonus?
Rodon: Maybe in a couple of years from now, who knows, if everything goes right.
Q: Do you name your fish?
Rodon: Yeah, actually I do have some names for some of them. I actually have a clam. I have names for everything. My girlfriend names them, usually. I have one black clown fish and his name is Marlin. I used to have a lot of other fish names, but they all passed away. Ive had Marlin for two years.
(Rodon takes out his phone and proudly shows off a photo of Clammy, his pet clam.)
Q:You get an off day, no obligations, completely free day, what are you doing?
Rodon: Probably fishing.
Q: Got a spot?
Rodon: I got a lot of spots, and I dont give them up.
Q: What was your role in Brett Austins twerking video? Did you have a role?
Rodon: (Long pause.) Oh, I did not have a role in that Vine. I did not have any sort of role in that Vine, and I am glad I did not.
Q: Did you coach him up afterward?
Rodon: No. I thought it was, um, interesting.
Q: Baseball question: Pitchers have to evolve. Whats different this year?
Rodon: Last year it was all two-seam (fastballs). Now Ive been throwing four-seams in, two-seams away, getting that run. Changeup ...
Q: You went 10-3 with a school-record 184 strikeouts, dominated late in the season, got to Omaha. How can you possibly be better this year?
Rodon: Just me? I mean, you can get better at everything. Nobodys perfect. Ive been working on the changeup. Just to have another pitch in your arsenal. Just really getting comfortable with it. ... My goal is to win every time I get out there. So if I dont win every time, then Im not the best I can be. Clearly.
Q: How many times have you asked coach Elliott Avent to let you pitch that mid-week game against North Carolina?
Rodon: Actually, I have not asked him. Im interested to see who they pitch and who we pitch. I can assure you its not going to be me.
Q: Its one thing to be the face of N.C. State baseball. But youre the face of Team USA. Whats that like?
Rodon: Always great representing your country. My freshman year I had the pleasure of going to Cuba, and Im of Cuban descent, so it was a cool experience. Americans dont get to go back to Cuba, and my dad definitely wont go back to Cuba. Or my grandfather. They dont want to go. But it was a great opportunity. It was a beautiful place. The Cuban people are amazing people. ...
Ive had some really neat experiences with USA, and theres nothing like it, when we played in Durham and had that great showing when we played Cuba. Theres some emotions there ... same thing with (facing) Japan.
Q: The 2011 draft didnt exactly go as planned. You were taken a little later than many thought (16th round, Milwaukee), the money wasnt quite right, etc. How much does that draft day still motivate you?
Rodon: I thought I was a good player, but you never know in that situation as a high school ballplayer. You could get drafted in the first round or the 45th round, you never know. It was definite motivation. I used it to make me better. I thought I was better than that. Luckily it ended up in a good way. Im glad Im at N.C. State and had all of these opportunities to make myself better.
Q: Could you step into a major league rotation and help somebody in August?
Rodon: Thats a tough question, but, yeah, I believe so. I believe I could do it right now.
Q: Looking forward to getting another shot at Jameis Winston?
Rodon: Yeah, hes a good ballplayer, I guess. Hes a better football player. Just real raw talent. Should be fun to face the Heisman Trophy-slash-national champion. ... I just remember the guys that will get me. I really dont remember his at-bats against me. But Ive seen him pitch before and thats something else to watch. Thats something to see.
Q: Pat Burrell was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft. He always wanted to pitch, and his coach promised him he could start the 1999 season opener, knowing hed be gone. What could Elliott do to bring you back for your senior year?
Rodon: (Immediate laughter.) Play center field. Probably something like that. Hit second or third.
Q: In the ACC, weve had some great pitchers come through here, No. 1 picks like Paul Wilson, Kris Benson, guys like Matt Harvey. How important is it for you to join that rotation?
Rodon: Thats a pretty prestigious list. To be on a list with Matt Harvey would be pretty cool, but really, I couldnt care less.
I want to be on the list that we won the College World Series. Thats the list I want to be on.