K-Rod was born over a decade ago, on Sept. 18, 2002 in Oakland, Calif., Baby steps came in 2003, a walk turned into a slow jog in 2004.
In 2005, The Chase began in earnest.
Baseball’s pastime has been its chases, ever since significance was attached to a number with two zeroes at the end of it. Then, as the game evolved, as more players began and ended careers with totals unmatched in previous history, the chases became about not only numbers, but the ghosts associated with them.
They’re called milestones, but it seems too simple a word.
Achievements in baseball that end in two zeroes – or magical numbers like 56 or 762 or 4,256 – aren’t just about the man reaching it. It’s about all the others he passed on the way, and all the others he may never catch.
In 2013, Francisco Rodriguez – K-Rod – is on such a Chase.
The "save" as we know it became an official statistic in 1969, so its history is relatively brief, but the act of saving a baseball game was acknowledged in the early 1950s and tracked unofficially by its father, the late sportswriter Jerome Holtzman, in the 1960s.
Being a 44-year-old stat, only 24 other men in history have saved 300 or more Major League Baseball games.
Rodriguez was asked about that magic number on after his first save of the season on May 24, a one-out emergency performance when the Milwaukee Brewers’ acting closer, Jim Henderson, went down with a hamstring injury.
It gave him 295, agonizingly close.
"Oh," he said, and he smiled a little. "Yeah, but, it’s been what, chasing that since 2011? It’s been a while."
But let's backtrack a moment. Beginning in 2005, K-Rod had been piling them up at a rate that made 300 seem less like a traditional baseball Chase than a destination.
He became a national phenomenon in 2002 over the final five regular season games and the extended postseason of the Anaheim Angels World Series run. He was an All-Star in 2004 and became the team’s full-time closer when the club changed its name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2005, leading the league in saves with 45.
In 2008 he set the single-season saves record with 62.
He saved 83 games in two and a half years with the New York Mets before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011 to bolster the bullpen in front of John Axford.
K-Rod had come to the Brewers with 291 career saves. Francisco Rodriguez left meekly at the end of poor 2012 with 294.
A free agent at the end of the season, he went the entire winter and spring training without a contract.
The Chase seemed over.
Until the phone rang in April that is, when the Brewers signed him to a minor league deal. He was recalled on May 15, and since then he has been another bright spot in a strong bullpen.
The Brewers began a seven-game homestand Monday, with K-Rod just three saves away from completing his Chase.
It’s something any baseball should want to see happen in person. These chases are not only what make individual games over a 162-day schedule significant, but the game itself.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.