GLENDALE, Ariz. — As Carlos Rodón sat at his locker in the corner of the visiting clubhouse at Camelback Ranch following his start against the White Sox, he smiled and echoed what every White Sox fan was probably feeling on Thursday.
“This is so weird,” Rodón said.
Since being drafted by the White Sox with the third overall pick in 2014, this was the only team that Rodón knew. And yet, there he was facing his former mates in his very first start with the San Francisco Giants — and at his former spring training ballpark no less.
What were the chances?
“Here we go, I guess. Start it up,” Rodon said, laughing.
And then, he got serious, reflecting on his White Sox career and the road that brought him to the Giants.
“Baseball is such a special game because you make so many relationships,” he said.
As he stood on the mound, Rodón looked into the White Sox dugout and saw all the players he developed those relationships with over the years, especially the pitchers who chose to stick around to watch Rodón in that odd black and orange uniform, and to heckle him, as well.
“It was cool. Some laughs. A little junk talk, but it was fun. Really fun,” Rodón said.
“I’m excited for him. I think that he went through a lot of crap,” Aaron Bummer said before the game about all of the injuries Rodón had to deal with during his White Sox career.
“For him to move on to San Francisco, he’s a guy who I hope goes out there and does well. At the same time, I hope we can go out there and do our business and put a little beating on him and get our bats going.”
Tim Anderson apparently got Bummer’s message. He led off the bottom of the first inning by poking a leadoff single to right.
“It’s a hit I’ve seen Tim do three, four hundred times,” Rodón said. “He hits the ball that way. He sees a fastball away. Boom. He takes his hit. It was a good job from him. Pretty normal to watch Tim do that, just on a different side of it.”
After that, Rodón struck out Luis Robert and José Abreu before retiring Yoán Moncada to end the threat.
In the second inning, Rodón threw an off-speed pitch to Eloy Jiménez who crushed it over the fence in center field.
“He’s a good hitter. Changeup right there and he smoked it to center. Lots of power. A lot of power from Eloy,” said Rodón, who gave up one run on two hits in 2 2/3 innings with four strikeouts.
When the White Sox chose not to offer him a 1-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer in November, the door opened for Rodón to leave as a free agent. At the time, it seemed like an official good-bye, but Rodón said on Thursday that the two sides did have discussions about finding a way for a possible return to the South Side.
“There were some talks,’ Rodón said. “There’s only so much a team can do. It’s not like they didn’t want me on their team. The Sox wanted me, and I gladly would have come back. Sometimes you have to explore other options.”
Rodón ended up signing a two-year, $44 million contract with the Giants with an opt-out after the first season.
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“It’s hard to leave an organization you’ve played your whole career for. It’s part of the game,” he said. “It’s part of the business. You move on. I’m excited to be a Giant. This is a very, very good organization. It’s good to be a part of a contender, leaving a contender. Playing with the White Sox was a pleasure as well.”
Taking Rodón’s spot in the rotation this year will be flamethrower Michael Kopech, who might not be able to handle a 200-inning workload just yet but has a bright future ahead of him.
“You guys are in very good hands. Kopech is going to be very, very good for a very long time,” Rodón said.
Looking back at his time with the White Sox, maybe it was fitting for Rodón to start his Giants career at the place he used to call home.
“Long road. You guys know the road I’ve been down,” Rodón said to the assembled Chicago media. “There’s beauty in the struggle. It’s how I got here. Going through those ups and downs and learning who I am. It helped.”
And as he left the game, walking from the mound to the dugout, he received a loud ovation from Giants fans. White Sox fans, too.
It was both a hello and a good-bye.
That’s life. That’s baseball.
For Rodón, a new chapter begins.