WAXAHACHIE — America's pastime has the power to affect the masses of humanity and span months, years or even decades. Some players, like former Texas Ranger Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, have the ability to craft the lives of people they've never met in cities they've rarely, if ever, visited.
The line leading out of the door wrapped around the outside of the Waxahachie H-E-B on Wednesday afternoon proved just as much, as hundreds lined up to have their copy of "They Call Me Pudge" autographed by the book's namesake.
It was about a pair of catchers — one in his preteens and the other in her early 30s — that braved 90-degree heat to meet their hero. It surrounded the effect one man had on a woman that "picked him in kindergarten" and elderly fans that have followed Pudge since he broke into the majors at the ripe age of 19 years old.
"I watched him when he went into the Hall of Fame and I'll be there when they retire his number on Saturday. I loved him, at first, because I thought he was cute, but now it goes way beyond that. He's got an impact that spans from kids that were born in the 80s to one born in the 2000s. He's legendary," said Erica, a 33-year-old Midlothian-native-turned-Maypearl resident, drawing her daughter, Jolee, in close for a single-armed side hug.
Jolee, though she had no knowledge of Ivan Rodriguez, knew well of the hulking man in the red, white and blue polo inside the store signing books and shaking hands near the 10-items-less-checkout and pharmacy.
She knew not of his 1999 American League or 2003 National League Championship Series MVP Awards, World Series championship with the Florida Marlins in 2003, any of his seven Silver Slugger Awards between 1994 and 2004 or the 13 Gold Gloves that helped him reach Cooperstown.
She knew only of the man, his myth and the love her mother had for arguably the best defensive catcher in MLB history.
As kindergarteners, Erica and her sister randomly picked players from a complimentary team book. One chose a two-time AL home run leader, three-time All-Star and Rodriguez's longtime teammate.
Erica's eyes and choice fell on Pudge.
"I've been a Rangers' fan since I was a little girl," Erica said. "My first Rangers' game, my sister and were looking at the program and picking our 'husbands' at the time. She picked Juan Gonzalez and I picked Pudge. His very first at-bat, he hit a home run. I've been a fan ever since."
From the time she was in kindergarten, Erica cut out every newspaper clipping that had his name in it. In the recesses of her basement, there are notebooks upon notebooks of history covering the Hall of Famer.
She was one of the many area residents that sold out H-E-B — 450 copies of his book on hand in total — in less than six hours. In the two previous weeks, the store had sold 88.
Rodriguez and baseball had a following in Ellis County, one rich with history of Eagles, Indians, Panthers and synonymous with the Gingerbread baseball monolith, Richards Park. And while Erica and her sister became fans at first sight, others either craft or crafted their games to mirror Rodriguez's.
That included his mask-off routine.
Some fans traveled from Bedford, Texas, too — 51 miles away from the plot of land and the iconic red and white building that housed one of Texas' most polarizing figures. Many, like 8-year-old Waxahachie Nationals catcher, Jackson Underwood, stood clutching the piece of baseball prose like a preacher does a bible for four hours.
Others did both.
"I had a crush on him — let's be honest — because he's so stinkin' cute. But I really liked him because he was aggressive on every play," Bedford's Emily Lucas, draped in royal blue Rangers attire matching her 63-year-old mother Debbie Hathaway. "My parents would say that when I was playing softball and catching I would flip my mask off just like him. I was short and stout like he was and I wanted to be just like him."
Lucas' mother, too, has a history with Rangers' fandom that stretches across generations.
"We would come with my dad and when I had kids we went," Hathaway said. "She turned out being a huge Pudge fan and a catcher. That was her idol. We've followed him his entire career, even when he left for Florida, Detroit and Houston."
Rodriguez finished his 20-year Major League career with 2,844 hits, 311 home runs and 1,332 runs batted in. His most recent hit, a 256-word compilation of his life in baseball, affected almost every person in the store's half-mile radius.
Rodriguez's legacy touched nearly all in attendance, even the ones that weren't baseball or Rangers fans but were blown away by the effect of a single player's career and the rabid fandom created.
"It's Texas baseball," said Dylan Sherrill, a 25-year-old one-year H-E-B employee. "I thought there'd be a big turnout, but I didn't expect this. I guess it's just like football here. Born and bred. I grew up in Alvarado and was a tennis guy. I don't speak for every person, but I think I'm in the minority because everybody loves those sports. I respect what those athletes can do and they've definitely earned their spot — especially Pudge."
Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.