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Pudge, Flores bond on first day of camp

Pudge, Flores bond on first day of camp

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VIERA, Fla. -- When the Nationals signed catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a two-year, $6 million contract in the offseason, the happiest person on the team was backstop Jesus Flores.

As a kid, Flores, 25, idolized the man affectionately known as Pudge. Watching Rodriguez over the years, Flores wanted to be just like his hero, who is a 13-time Gold Glove winner, 14-time All-Star and an American League Most Valuable Player.

On Sunday, Rodriguez arrived in camp around 8:20 a.m. ET, and who was sitting by him a few minutes later? It was Flores. They talked for a half-hour before manager Jim Riggleman had his team meeting.

Not only did the two talk about staying in shape during the winter, but Pudge also told Flores that he was going to keep an eye on him. Rodriguez's job is to be a mentor to Flores, who is considered the team's catcher of the future. Flores most likely will not start the 2010 season on time because of a surgically-repaired right shoulder.

As for Rodriguez, he is expected to be Washington's starting catcher this coming season.

"After I saw him walking into the clubhouse, he came to me to say, 'Hi,'" Flores said. "I was like, 'Wow, Pudge Rodriguez is going to be on the same team as I am.' He went back to his locker and he kept talking to me, so we were talking right away. He is the player I have to keep admiring."

The two talked again while the Nationals' pitchers were having their bullpen sessions. They continued to talk about staying in shape and mentally playing the game the right way.

"I told [Flores], 'Whatever you need, I'll be there for you,'" Rodriguez said. "That's what I'm here for. I'm here to help Flores, Wil Nieves and all the young pitchers. I think I have experience to be with these guys and share my experience with them on how I play the game of baseball."

Rodriguez said it was former teammates such as Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan who taught him how to help teammates on and off the field. This year will be no different when it comes to helping a player like Flores.

"I grew up learning from people like Nolan, Julio Franco, Ruben Sierra and all those guys back in 1991. I learned a lot from them," Rodriguez said. "They taught you how to play the game the right way. They told you how to become a professional player. That's how I played and that's how I grew up. That's how I play today's game."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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