MCC student joins his brothers in throwing ceremonial pitch at Royals’ season opener

MCC student Mark Rodriguez (in black jersey) and his brothers threw the ceremonial first pitch during the Royals’ season opener. (On-field photos courtesy Jason Hanna/Kansas City Royals)

A Metropolitan Community College student and his brothers were the center of attention during pregame ceremonies at the Kansas City Royals’ home opener March 28.

Mark Rodriguez and three of his brothers threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game.  Each brother served in one of the four branches of the military. Rodriguez is a Marine Corps veteran.

Mark Rodriguez with his girlfriend, Deanna Wardlaw

Rodriguez, 58, is taking Spanish classes at MCC-Penn Valley and MCC-Business & Technology. He’s spent 26 years as an auto worker at Ford Motor Co.’s Claycomo assembly plant. Ford and the United Autoworkers Union have an educational program that provides members the opportunity to further their education.

His major league moment wasn’t supposed to be so spectacular. The Royals wanted to honor the brothers as part of the team’s Salute to Service Program in September. They couldn’t get it worked out in time to be honored then, which set the stage for something bigger.

“In February the Royals contacted us and said they would like to honor our family for all of our military service by throwing out the first pitch of the season,” Rodriguez said. “I was like — what? I didn’t know what to think.”

Rodriguez said he’s always been a big Royals fan. He found the on-field experience “unreal.”

“First we sat in an area with all the old Royals stars for two hours before game time due to the rain delay,” he says, “and then we got to talk and meet all of them.”

Rodriguez and his brothers also visited the clubhouse and dugout.

“Being on the field with everyone in Kansas City and really all over the nation watching you was very exciting and nerve-racking too,” he says.

The Royals honored all five Rodriguez brothers, including Marine veteran Johnny (shown on scoreboard), who died at age 21 in Kansas City.

It was also emotional. Rodriguez’s brother Johnny, also a Marine, was 21 when he was killed during a robbery after returning home to Kansas City from Vietnam in 1968. The Royals honored Johnny along with his brothers.

Rodriguez said his family was very excited about the honor. At MCC, “I only told one teacher and one classmate, but they told others in my class. I don’t think they realized what a big deal it was to do something like that.”

Royals players Whit Merrifield (from left), Cam Gallagher, Hunter Dozier and Alex Gordon caught the Rodriguez brothers’ pitches.
The Rodriguez brothers are honored for their military service. From left: Gabriel (Air Force), Mark (Marines), Aaron (Navy) and Jesse (Army).
Royals catcher Cam Gallagher caught the ball Mark Rodriguez (in black jersey) threw.

MCC has had a marketing partnership with the Kansas City Royals since 2014.