From the moment he first stepped on campus, NC State baseball pitcher Carlos Rodon proved he was something special.
The 6-foot-3 lefthander with the spot-on slider could have signed a professional baseball contract with the Milwaukee Brewers coming out of Holly Springs High School three years ago, having been taken in the 16th round of the Major League Baseball draft of first-year players. But the son of Cuban immigrants dreamed of going to college and his parents dreamed of having their son one day getting a degree, so he chose to go to school while he played ball.
Three years into his Wolfpack baseball career, Rodon still maintains that enrolling at NC State is “the best decision I’ve ever made.”
That choice goes well beyond his baseball accomplishments, which include an undefeated record as a freshman and a stellar sophomore season in which he led the nation in strikeouts (184) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.51) and led the Wolfpack to its first College World Series appearance in 45 years.
“I just like being here,” says Rodon, a sport management major. “It’s a special place for me. It was a tough decision to choose between signing with the Brewers and coming to school. I was kind of on the fence. I thought I might be ready for professional baseball, but looking back at it, I know I wasn’t.
“I had a lot of growing up to do. Clearly, it was a better decision to come here.”
Near Perfect Performance
Rodon’s experience as a freshman was perfect and practically easy. He won nine games without a loss and proved the hype he had coming out of high school was justified. Last year, he showed that he could bounce back from the few lumps he took in the early part of the season.
He stepped onto the national stage in Omaha, Neb., and turned in a near perfect performance against rival North Carolina in an 8-1 victory, just three weeks after pitching the first 10 frames of a classic 18-inning game against the Tar Heels in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
He led the Pack to wins in the NCAA Raleigh Regional and Super Regional to advance to the CWS for only the second time in school history.
If he and the Wolfpack repeat that feat – and that’s the team’s goal – Rodon will likely leave a legacy as one of the best athletes to ever represent NC State, assuming he elects to go into draft this summer. (Baseball players who attend college are eligible to be drafted three years after they graduate from high school.)
In Good Company
As Baseball America’s top-rated prospect in the nation, Rodon could be the third Wolfpack player to be picked first overall in his respective sport. David Thompson in basketball and Mario Williams in football preceded him. Only two schools in college athletics history (UCLA and LSU) have ever had three No. 1 overall picks in the three major sports.
He has set the stage to do in baseball what others have done in different sports, such as the three NC State graduates who are starting quarterbacks in the NFL: Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson, rookie Mike Glennon and veteran Philip Rivers. Or he could be up there with Thompson, legendary quarterback Roman Gabriel or wide receiver Torry Holt, who are regarded among the school’s most successful professional athletes.
State has had a strong history of producing professional baseball players, all the way back to Dave Robertson, who twice led the National League in home runs in the pre-Babe Ruth deadball era of the major leagues. That legacy includes successful pitcher Mike Caldwell, who once won two games for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 World Series, and reliever Tim Stoddard, who was a member of the 1983 World Series champion Baltimore Orioles. He is all but certain to join former All-America reliever Joey Devine and pitcher Andrew Brackman as the only other NC State players to be taken in the first round of the MLB draft.
There have only been a handful of Wolfpack non-revenue athletes who have truly excelled on a national stage, the most recent being Olympic gold medal swimmer Cullen Jones, along with the multiple swimmers from the 1960s and ‘70s who also won national and international championships.
But Rodon, a native of Miami whose family moved to North Carolina when he was 8, doesn’t want to head off to the pros before his third season at NC State has even begun. He wants to spend this season improving on the two pitches – his 95 mph fastball and his 92 mph slider – that have made him famous, while also developing a better curveball. He wants to spend as much time with friends and teammates as possible and enjoy the experience, especially if the team ends up back in Omaha.
“Sometimes you just have to forget about all the expectations,” Rodon says. “Sometimes you aren’t able to meet them. Sometimes circumstances don’t allow it. Expectations are the killers of dreams.
“I could care less about outside expectations. We have goals that we want to meet and those are the ones I am most worried about fulfilling.”
Rodon believes he picked the perfect place to become a celebrity, just like his good friend Scotty McCreery, the former American Idol winner who is also a junior at NC State.
“What I like about being here is that I am just another part of the NC State family,” Rodon says. “People are respectful of your time and privacy. I’m just another part of the campus community.
“Every now and then, when I am out to dinner or something, I might get asked for an autograph. For me, it’s something that’s humbling.”
And the double dose of success and humility are two of the most important lessons Rodon will take with him from best decision of his life.