Odor living the dream every day in the Majors
Young Venezuelan second baseman capitalizing on opportunity to play
ARLINGTON -- There was a period, albeit a brief one, when things weren't the way they are now.
The Rangers were healthy. Ron Washington had options. A trip to the disabled list wasn't a daily occurrence -- it is now littered with a league-leading 14 Rangers.
Among those who were healthy were both the veterans, the Prince Fielders, and the highly anticipated youths. The vibrant 20-year-olds who had essentially their entire careers ahead of them, before injuries took their toll. The Jurickson Profars.
But it's now 2 1/2 months into the season, and Profar, the 6-foot, 165-pounder, isn't seen around Globe Life Park much these days. There was a time just a few months ago when he was the up-and-coming star, the highly touted 20-year-old who was supposed to bring life to second base after Ian Kinsler was traded to the Tigers.
But a torn muscle in Profar's right shoulder changed all of that, bringing in Josh Wilson, and once he was designated for assignment, current makeshift first baseman Donnie Murphy. Once Murphy went on the disabled list with a strained neck, the Rangers had been through three second basemen -- four, if you count utility infielder Luis Sardinas. But none were viable permanent options.
Enter Rougned Odor, a 20-year-old Venezuela native who signed as an international free agent with the Rangers on Jan. 3, 2011 -- exactly one month before his 17th birthday.
A year in Spokane and Hickory, respectively, before going to high Class A Myrtle Beach and then Double-A Frisco in 2013, Odor quickly escalated the ranks, already finding himself in the Majors after being the Rangers' 2013 Minor League Player of the Year.
Perhaps the 5-foot-11, 170-pound kid-turned-starter was initially thrown into the fire out of necessity, for lack of a better option.
But more than a month later, after his May 8 debut, Odor doesn't want to be just a temporary fix for an ongoing problem. He's here to stay.
Odor sits in the Rangers' media room, his iPhone in his hand and his interpreter by his side. A green screen adorns the opposite side of the room, which echoes with the sounds of cameras flashing at starting pitcher Joe Saunders.
Odor does speak a little bit of English, but it's obvious that in addition to his family and Venezuelan food, Odor misses primarily communicating in Spanish. He cracks a smile when he begins to talk about his start in baseball 17 years ago.
"When I was 3 years old, my grandpa was the first one to take me to a baseball game, to the fields, to stadiums," Odor said. "I wanted to be like my uncles. They played baseball and I wanted to be a professional. Ever since then, I was thinking about it, and thought this would be something good for me."
With the help of his uncles -- one of whom, Rouglas Odor, played for the Cleveland and Milwaukee organizations from 1988-95 and is now a hitting coach for the Akron RubberDucks, the Indians' Double-A affiliate -- Odor committed himself to becoming a Major League player as early as possible.<
Approximately a year before Odor signed with the Rangers, his father and uncles decided that it was time for him to make his first visit to the United States.
Through tournaments, they figured, Odor would have the opportunity to play in front of Major League scouts.
Venezuelan baseball was competitive. There was no denying that. But Odor knew that his career hinged upon the Americans noticing him -- and right around the time when they noticed him, he latched on to them as well.
Odor had watched Major League Baseball on television his entire life, but went to his first live game when he was in the Tampa Bay area for a tournament. On that day, the Rays took the field and Odor was in the stands. The Rangers were in town.
"What I remember liking about this [Rangers] team was that it looked like a unique team that was very, very close together. United," Odor said. "I remember I said, 'I want to be part of that.'"
A year later, he was.
Odor started his career in Spokane, Wash., in 2011, playing in 58 games, with 61 hits and a .262 batting average. On July 17, he hit his first career grand slam.
In 2012, Odor moved across the country to Hickory, N.C., to spend an entire season with the Crawdads as the youngest regular in the South Atlantic League.
But age has never been a factor for the now youngest player in Major League Baseball.
"In my time playing baseball, I always was the youngest to play on any team," Odor said. "It's no big deal for me to think about that."
After Hickory, Odor had a 100-game stint with Class A Myrtle Beach, where he batted .305 with 59 RBIs, then was promoted to Double-A Frisco that same season. As the organization's Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year, with a .305 average and 78 RBIs between Myrtle Beach and Frisco, Odor knew that one day soon, Arlington would be a reality.
"Of course you dream. You dream to come to the Major Leagues. I never think about if I'm going to make it, or don't make it," Odor said. "But when I was in Frisco, watching the games on TV when the Rangers played, I said, 'Man. I'll be there some day. I'll be there some day.'i And it happened."
Now with the Rangers, the second baseman is batting .312 with 24 hits and two home runs.
"My first hit, my first home run, and my first double play," Odor said with a smile, recalling his favorite Texas memories to date.
Rangers manager Ron Washington has watched Odor progress, and quickly noticed the one thing that never wavers with the second baseman.
"He's not scared," Washington said last week. "And since he's not scared, he'll figure it out. He's not going up there keeping the bat on his shoulder. He sees something he likes, he swings. And the more time he gets, the better that part of it will become."
Now, what once was a dream has become a daily routine when Odor slips the No. 73 jersey over his head each day. He remembers the first time he did it -- May 8 against Boston.
"Unforgettable experience," Odor said. "Unforgettable."
At the end of the month, Odor's family will travel from Venezuela to see him compete in the Major Leagues for the first time.
"Mi papa, mi mama, mi hermano, mi hermana," he said with a smile.
Father, mother, brother, sister. They'll all be there when Odor takes his position at second base at Globe Life Park. And though they'll only catch a few games, before heading back to Venezuela, Odor certainly hopes he's there for the long haul.
"It's been a big experience," Odor said. "Every day, I'm fulfilling my dream."
Grace Raynor is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.