Switching positions is more standard at the beginning of a baseball career, since it often gives young players an opportunity to discover where they excel and develop a sense of comfort in different places on the field.

However, going from playing as a position player and hitter to becoming a pitcher in college is another matter altogether. Pitching requires intense focus and mental toughness for consistent control, as well as the repetitive use of a single motion every single time the player is on the mound.

For St. Joseph’s University junior Alec Rodriguez, however, going from the middle of the infield to the mound was a beneficial move that he gladly accepted.

Originally set on attending Widener, Rodriguez decided it wasn’t a great fit and instead enrolled at St. Joseph’s no intention of playing baseball. It wasn’t until associate head coach Ryan Wheeler saw him play at the Carpenter Cup in the summer ahead of Rodriguez’s freshman year that the former Cherry Hill East star got a call from the coach, saying that he wanted to continue to see him play.

Once invited on campus, Rodriguez competed each day, both in the weight room and on the field, vying for a walk-on spot on the team as a middle infielder.

“The idea of potentially not making the team is in your head in that situation and so you’re in survival mode,” Rodriguez said. “Every day I treated it as if it could be my last [and so] I went out there and battled and competed every single day.”

Rodriguez won a spot on the team, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that the 6-foot right-hander found his calling on the diamond.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, college teams across the country were forced to cancel their seasons, including St. Joe’s. Looking to continue to train and stay in shape, Rodriguez and a few of his teammates began practicing on the field when a spur-of-the-moment decision led him to hop onto the pitcher’s mound for fun.

“I just ended up throwing live out of nowhere,” Rodriguez said. “My velocity was upper 80s [and I] touched 90s. So it was a huge surprise and someone got it on video, I guess.”

That video eventually made its way to coach Fritz Hamburg, now in his 14th season with the Hawks (12-10). When Hamburg saw it, he immediately knew that Rodriguez had the potential to be a valuable piece on the Hawks pitching staff.

“A video usually will show us how an athlete moves, how he might swing the bat, how he is in the zone, and you’ll get some sense of movement in the pitches,” Hamburg explained. “And really what we do is determine if that video says, ‘Now we need to go see the guy in person.’ [But] Alec was here in the fall and was coming on his own. And you know what, how lucky we are for that to unfold the way it did.”

The video prompted Hamburg to move Rodriguez into the pitchers group a few days later, which caught the right-hander off-guard.

“He just texted me one day, [saying], ‘Hey, you’re going to be in the pitching group,’” Rodriguez said. “Since then I’ve taken it and rolled with it. Anything to help this team win.”

“ You’ve got to have a surprise up your sleeve from time to time,” Hamburg chuckled when asked about the out-of-the-blue text.

In his first outing as a pitcher for the Hawks, Rodriguez struck out the side against George Washington to earn the save while giving up only one hit. He recalled “basically blacking out” during his impressive performance, as he was locked into the moment.

“I was an athlete and competed and I got the result that I wanted to get at that moment,” Rodriguez recalled. “I remember at the end of that game [I] just let it absolutely rip, I was super hyped. It was just a great moment for me and that’s when it really hit me that this is something that I can be good at.”

Hamburg pointed out that Rodriguez’s late switch to pitching has garnered some attention.

“He’s getting interest from the professional level now because his arm is fresh and it’s quick,” Hamburg said. “He’s been up to 94 [mph] and his slider — when it’s on, it’s really good. The pitching piece is just maturing.”

Rodriguez now has two saves this season and an ERA of 6.75. Despite a few hiccups and erratic moments, Hamburg still has full confidence in Rodriguez’s ability to perform and his massive potential on the mound.

“He’s just going to get better and better,” Hamburg said. “It’s never about me or the coaching staff not having confidence when we give him the ball. He’s done everything to prepare, and he works really hard to give himself and the team every chance to be successful.”