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King of the Coaching Box / Ex-Queens manager Rodriguez makes it all the way back

There was Arizona Diamondbacks first-base coach Eddie Rodriguez, in the far

right corner of the Shea Stadium visitors clubhouse, mingling with players and

talking strategy with fellow coaches. And back where he belongs.

"I can't tell how special this is," said Rodriguez, who in a matter of

eight months went from a Class A manager in Queens to a third-base coach on the

U.S. gold medal Olympic team to the first-base coach of the Diamondbacks. "For

all I have been through, it's just astonishing. I just hope it lasts forever.

I still pinch myself on the way to the ballpark."

Rodriguez, 42, a 5-8, 170-pound 18-year minor-league coaching veteran, was

the first and only manager of the Queens Kings, a Toronto Blue Jays

short-season Class A minor-league affiliate that played its only season at St.

John's University last year and has moved to Auburn this season to make room

for the Mets' new Brooklyn Cyclones affiliate.

Friday's Mets-Diamondbacks game marked the return of Rodriguez to Queens.

After spending 15 years coaching in the Angels' farm system, Rodriguez was

picked to be the third-base coach under former Toronto manager Tim Johnson in

1998. A year later, that job ended after Johnson was dismissed for lying about

his experience in the Vietnam War. As a result, Rodriguez was demoted, offered

the managerial job of the St. Catherines Class A farm team, which eventually

became the Queens Kings.

Back in the minors, Rodriguez never had any complaints.

"I was fortunate to even get an opportunity to be in the big leagues ,"

Rodriguez said. "It was a wonderful experience and things happen. I was in the

wrong place at the wrong time. I can't keep any negative feelings toward

anybody in the organization."

In late July, Rodriguez began his return to the big time. He left the

Kings, who were ousted by Staten Island in the first round of the New York-Penn

League playoffs in September, to take the third-base coaching job for the U.S.

Olympic team under manager Tommy Lasorda. The U.S. team went on to defeat

Cuba, 4-0, in the gold-medal game.

At the annual general managers meetings in early December, the Diamondbacks

came calling. "I got a phone call from the [Blue Jays] front office and they

told me that the Diamondbacks were interested in me," said Rodriguez, who is

from Arizona. "All I knew, I was sitting with assistant general manager Sandy

Johnson, Roland Hemond and general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. They knew about my

work with the Olympic team and wanted to hire me. I just couldn't believe it.

It happened too fast."

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