A conversation with NC State ace Carlos Rodon

cwright@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2014 

— 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 there’s more to the junior from nearby Holly Springs than throwing 96-mph fastballs past college and international hitters.

There’s fishing, for instance. Baseball America doesn’t rank such tools, but it wouldn’t surprise anybody who knows him if Rodon has the best casting command in the country, too.

The Wolfpack’s 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. “How’s your arm? How’s your slider? How’s your two-seamer? ...”

He had no idea, however, he’d spend so much time discussing Marlin (his prized clown fish), Jameis Winston (doesn’t really remember facing him), his dream position at N.C. State (keep reading) and his favorite fishing spot (you’d 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 season’s ending fueling this season’s 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, I’d say. Couldn’t write it out any better than that. Especially against Carolina. It was surreal. Seeing them three months before, I couldn’t have told you that we’re 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 don’t make it to Omaha and it’s not a successful season.

Q: That’s a narrow margin of error. You guys have embraced that?

Rodon: That’s what I’ve embraced, and I’m 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. It’s just game day. People tell me, “you seem different.” Just not a nice guy. Put it that way. Real serious. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Just try to get in a zone. But that’s the way it’s always been, though, even in high school.

I don’t know how I get in that mode. I just change. And I just want to win so bad.

Q: You’re a big guy (6-foot-3, 234 pounds). I’m 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 wasn’t a bad hitter. I just wasn’t developed like these guys on our team that really can hit. They’re just on a different level. I just wasn’t there.

Q: So what’s 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.

Rodon: Really?

Q: Yeah, better arm, who’s 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 haven’t really tried it in a while, but I’ve always been able to throw a football pretty well. I might have the arm strength, but he’s 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. We’re still trying to figure that out.

Q: You going country?

Rodon: No, we’re not going country. We’re 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 you’re 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, I’ve always liked fishing. My dad used to have them all the time. It’s just something that’s just a hobby that I’ve always done and I just love doing it.

Q: You watch the show Tanked?

Rodon: Yeah, I do watch that show. That’s 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. I’ve 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 don’t give them up.

Q: What was your role in Brett Austin’s 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. What’s different this year?

Rodon: Last year it was all two-seam (fastballs). Now I’ve 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. Nobody’s perfect. I’ve 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 don’t win every time, then I’m 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. I’m interested to see who they pitch and who we pitch. I can assure you it’s not going to be me.

Q: It’s one thing to be the face of N.C. State baseball. But you’re the face of Team USA. What’s that like?

Rodon: Always great representing your country. My freshman year I had the pleasure of going to Cuba, and I’m of Cuban descent, so it was a cool experience. Americans don’t get to go back to Cuba, and my dad definitely won’t go back to Cuba. Or my grandfather. They don’t want to go. But it was a great opportunity. It was a beautiful place. The Cuban people are amazing people. ...

I’ve had some really neat experiences with USA, and there’s nothing like it, when we played in Durham and had that great showing when we played Cuba. There’s some emotions there ... same thing with (facing) Japan.

Q: The 2011 draft didn’t exactly go as planned. You were taken a little later than many thought (16th round, Milwaukee), the money wasn’t 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. I’m glad I’m 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: That’s 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, he’s a good ballplayer, I guess. He’s 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 don’t remember his at-bats against me. But I’ve seen him pitch before and that’s something else to watch. That’s 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 he’d 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, we’ve 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: That’s a pretty prestigious list. To be on a list with Matt Harvey would be pretty cool, but really, I couldn’t care less.

I want to be on the list that we won the College World Series. That’s the list I want to be on.

Wright: 919-829-4643

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