Nolan Rodriguez hits toward career path outside of baseball

Freshman outfielder Nolan Rodriguez is taking part in Baylor in Washington this semester. He's pursuing his passion in striving for religious freedom across the world. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

Being a walk-on baseball player at Baylor is no ordinary task. To do this while also fighting for religious freedom across the world and being the head coach’s son is quite the occupation.

Second-year freshman outfielder Nolan Rodriguez took part in the Baylor in Washington program during this fall semester. Rodriguez has also been a part of the Religious Freedom Institute, a nonprofit organization that strives for religious freedom across the globe. Through this semester, Rodriguez has not only found his passion, but also hopes to serve as a symbol for college athletes who struggle to find their calling outside of athletics.

Since birth, baseball has been a part of Rodriguez’s life. Nolan’s father and Baylor baseball head coach Steve Rodriguez said due to his own life around the sport, Nolan was destined to be involved in it.

“Well, to be honest with you, just because of my job he was around it his whole life,” Steve Rodriguez said. “As soon as he could walk he had a baseball in his hand.”

Being a former professional player and a coach, some may assume Steve coached Nolan growing up. However, that was never the case, as Steve made it a point to let Nolan “pave his own path.” When it came down to recruitment, Steve struggled in wondering if it was selfish to bring Nolan in to play at Baylor. After talking with other coaches who have experience with this predicament, Steve was told it’ll be one of the greatest experiences he’d ever have. Now, a full year into coaching his son, he knows how special it is.

“It was something that I was really fortunate enough to be able to do and being able to get to coach my own son, especially at this level,” Steve said. “I don’t know if I could ask for anything more.”

For Nolan, playing for his dad was always in his plans. He said he couldn’t have asked for a better college experience than attending Baylor and playing in his dad’s program.

“Playing for my dad was something that I had always wanted to do, but never knew if I would have the chance to do,” Nolan said. “Getting that shot has been one of the best experiences of my entire life. Getting to be around my dad … every single day has been the biggest blessing.”

Being immersed in the sport for his entire life, Nolan said baseball will always be a part of him. He said he uses skills from baseball in his current workplace and institution to prepare him for life outside of athletics.

“I’m reading press releases and writing reports, I’m thinking of it like I’m stealing signs because I have to read through what people are saying. Or, like, I’m reading a pitcher, you have to read their tendencies and know how certain people do certain things,” Nolan said. “All of the skills that I’ve gained while playing baseball, and then even in collegiate baseball, have prepared me for the workplace and for life beyond baseball, more than it’s prepared me physically or in any other way.”

In working for RFI for a full semester now, Nolan has been changed in ways that will stay with him forever. He said working with other countries and seeing how different they are from the United States has altered his perspective for the better.

“I will forever be changed because of the work I’ve been able to witness here at RFI and the humility that I’ve gained from it … there are so many different people in the world, different stories, different perspectives, different faiths that influence the way that people act,” Nolan said. “Understanding that I’ll never [fully] understand it, working to understand people and their stories is something that I’ll never lose.”

For Steve, sending his son Nolan off to the nation’s capital was not as difficult as it sounds. Of course, not having Nolan around was the worst part of the entire experience, but what made it easier was knowing that the opportunity was something Nolan wanted deeply, as well as fulfilling a passion Nolan had.

“The difficult part for me was that I wasn’t going to have my son around me for a semester. But it wasn’t difficult because when you have a passion like that, I want people with that passion to be able to go and research and be able to do the things that they want to do because that’s their calling,” Steve said. “When you have a passion about something — my gosh, the worst thing I can do is squash that. If anything, I need to put more water on it, let it grow and then let it take its own shape.”

Nolan will be home soon, and his dad couldn’t be prouder of his son. For Nolan to show his true value in the workforce means everything to Steve.

“As a dad, that’s all I can ask for, is go out there and make your mark. Make yourself so valuable that they need you there and they want you there, and they want you working on things because the quality of your work is so good,” Steve said. “I ask that of all of my guys, and the fact that my son can actually go out there and lay that groundwork for himself, for his future. My gosh, who can’t be more proud than that.”

Nolan was forced to realize that athletics is not an option in everyone’s future forever. He has found his career path for himself, but knows lots of other athletes fail to do so. In asking himself some questions, he was able to fully find what was meant for him.

“Athletics ends, it does. It ended for Derek Jeter — every single athlete, their career comes to an end,” Nolan said. “What are you going to do after that? Who are you off the field?”

In Nolan’s journey through baseball, and now finding his calling in Washington D.C., Steve hopes for Nolan to be a figure for other college athletes. The reason for this is the fact that only 2% of D1 athletes make it to a professional stage. This causes some struggle to arise in student-athletes, as they fixate on athletics too much and not their career path.

“That’s the greatest thing about this,” Steve said. “I want other players and other coaches to be able to see that and to know that there is a pathway that your sport can give you that may not be in professional baseball, but it can really have a springboard effect to really anything else.”

Baylor baseball and Baylor in Washington have allowed Nolan to pursue a path suited toward his passions. Being a part of RFI, Nolan has a decent sense of what he wants to do in his future. He said he knows whatever is still in store for him is a blank canvas, but for him to immerse himself in a workforce that fights for others, it would be a puzzle-piece fit.

“It really would be a dream [come true],” Nolan said. “Through multiple internships that I’ve had and the community service that I’ve done, I realize that I love to fight for people. That’s what I’m passionate about. If I could do that for the rest of my life, I would be able to look back [in] my old age [and say] that I’m proud of what I did.”