Passion for the game keeps ‘Feñito’ going
Luis ‘Feñito’ Rodriguez is still playing in the Puerto Rico Superior League at the age of 44|
You could cite his tenacity or persistence, two vital qualities for any long-serving athlete, but ultimately it is a simple love of his sport that keeps Puerto Rican veteran Luis ‘Feñito’ Rodriguez going at the ripe old age of 44.
He may no longer be the outstanding middle blocker of his sporting prime, but this volleyball Methusaleh was still good enough to lead his Arecibo Captains team to the Puerto Rico Superior League title in January, walking away also with the award for Most Valuable Player of the final series.
Rodriguez, who combines his volleyball career with a job with a pharmaceutical company and is the father of three children, is not thinking about retirement yet, even though he admits the day when he will be watching the action from the stands is getting closer and closer.
“Retirement is an option that comes up at the end of every season,” he said, “but with the numbers I put together you don’t have to think about it yet.”
The oldest player to participate in the 2010 FIVB Men’s World Championship, Rodriguez retired from international duty after that event – his second appearance on the world stage – but continued playing in his national competition where he is the owner of several records.
“I have to thank God for giving me a healthy life and allowing me to play for such a long time,” said the all-time leading scorer (4,900 points) and blocker (953) in a record 23 seasons of league service. “Every day is a new challenge because it is very tough to be a player and to have a full-time job.”
Rodriguez, who started playing in the small town of Naranjito at 15, made his debut in the Superior League in 1990 and has gone on to win 15 titles, more than any other player. “I can say that I started to play a little bit late compared to most people,” he reflected. “At that age, some kids have been playing for three or four years but I was lucky that in my town we lived and breathed volleyball, and that served as motivation.”
Happily, all the years of training and competing have not diminished Rodriguez’s enthusiasm for a sport he still enjoys as he did in his youth. “The biggest sacrifice has been to be away from the family but I have received a lot of rewards and the sacrifice was worth it. My wife Ada has been very important over all those years running the home and taking care of the children.”
The management of Arecibo Captains club would like Rodriguez to keep playing for at least one more year after their victory over Guaynabo Mets, with which they became the first franchise to win the national title in their debut season.
“His contract is on the table,” coach David Aleman said in the midst of the celebrations. “Now we have to convince him to play next season. That’s his decision to take.”
Nelson Perez, president of the Puerto Rican Volleyball Federation, sees Rodriguez as a source of inspiration for the new generation of players in the national team as well as for those taking their first steps in the sport. “Feñito is an example for young players coming up in volleyball and also the people in our society. He is a humble gentleman who came up from the bottom and developed into a good citizen thanks to hard work in his profession and also in sport.”