He humbly introduced himself to me as Alex. The year was 1993. The location was a backyard party somewhere in South Miami. Alex was a senior in high school. I was a sophomore.
Before he was Major League Baseball’s favorite witch hunt target, Alex Rodriguez was an All-American shortstop at Miami’s Westminster Christian High School. Back then the A-rod moniker had yet to be bestowed on the 17 year old, who was already built like a pro and projected to be the number one overall pick in the upcoming amateur draft.
He had an unpretentious smile. Twenty years later that same smile would be widely dismissed by celebrity-obsessed America as part of a disingenuous facade. But on that Friday night, there wasn't a hint of duplicity in anything Alex did. Why should there be? The weekend was young and the future held promise.
The glint from his national championship ring captivated me as though I were a jealous bridesmaid. I knew his high school squad had taken the mythical honor as the best in the country a year earlier at the behest of Baseball America. Still, I had to ask for a closer look. Superstars never tire of showing off the top prize.
Everyone knew who he was, which wasn’t unusual for a local athlete who got a lot of ink in The Herald. He had a quartet of private school girls hanging on his every word. When he found out I was a ballplayer, he became suddenly less interested in his entourage.
For a guy whose future was as limitless as his, Alex seemed most at home talking about home. His roots were important. Some people spend their whole lives pushing to get to the top, only because they're convinced their cradle is the shameful bottom. Not Alex.
We swapped war stories about playing junior ball at Miami’s famed Boys Club league, a haven where only a few years earlier Alex was just another promising player. In those days, the place was Miami's version of Harlem's famed Rucker Park, except it was closed to anyone over the age of fourteen. Boys Club veterans shared a brotherhood. Former players had instant street cred and legends became, well . . . Alex.
Before the century would close, Alex (or A-rod as the Big League Press would soon anoint him) had donated undisclosed millions to the Boys Club so future crops of promising players would enjoy better facilities than the ones we did. There's no statute of him at the park to commemorate the charitable gift. That's not Alex's style.
Only one of us broke the law that Friday night back in '93. I’m guilty of tossing back a few underage beers, while Alex nursed a Sprite.
A lot of sinners have thrown stones at Alex since the night we met on a back porch at a high school party almost a quarter century ago. Most tend to judge on what they know. Guess I’m the same.