The year was 2007. I was just hitting that awkward stage of puberty, which is a tough time in any young adolescent’s life. Eminem was still slinging records and my childhood hero, Yankees 3rd Baseman Alex Rodriguez, was in the middle of arguably the best season of his baseball career. I followed his at-bats religiously throughout that season. Rodriguez opened the season with an astronomical April. He hit 12 home runs in his first 15 games, which tied the major league record set in 1976 by Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt. Rodriguez would finish that year with 54 home runs and 154 RBIs, while capturing his third career American League MVP award. Life was good for A-Rod fans.
Alex Rodriguez was the perfect poster boy for baseball coming into the 21st century. How could you not adore him? He was the perfect player, the five-tool guy. He could hit, he could hit for power, he could throw, he could field, and he could run. Rodriguez could do things on the diamond that most players could only dream of. As of 2012, there are only four players to ever hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season. Rodriguez is among that elite few. A-Rod possessed that soft, graceful swing that made you marvel at the distance of his home runs.
In my book, A-Rod could do no wrong. I heard all the scandalous stories in the tabloids, but my perception never drifted. I disregarded the negative and stuck only to the positive because this was my childhood idol. During baseball season, I constantly would check the box scores and only watch his at-bats when Yankee games were televised. The game itself was irrelevant. My friends told me I was obsessed (and I probably was to some degree). They would jokingly mock my infatuation with crude humor and relentless mimics of “A-Rod, A-Rod, A-Rod.”
As a thirteen, fourteen year old boy you tend to ignore and look past the mistakes made by adults, especially your role models. Your mind does not know any better. However, as I continued through the rough years of puberty and into early adulthood, my conscience began to clear up. Now looking back on all the tabloids and rumors, I realized that some of Rodriguez’s behavior was intolerable.
First came the Madonna incident. In July 2008, Rodriguez’s wife, Cynthia, filed for divorce claiming “emotional abandonment” of their children, along with “extra marital affairs.” Soon after, it was made public that Rodriguez had an ongoing affair with Madonna. It was heartbreaking to know that a man you looked up to your entire life lacked such faithfulness. In this delicate time in my life, when I needed a hero to look up to, my greatest one let me down the hardest.
Rodriguez not only demonstrated disloyalty to the American audience, but also selfishness, egotistic behavior. In October 2007, with the Boston Red Sox on the brink of their second World Series title in less than three years, Rodriguez’s agent Scott Boras decided to make a public announcement that Rodriguez would be opting out of his 10 year, $252 million contract with the Yankees. With the whole baseball world tuned in to the World Series, Rodriguez brought the spotlight back on himself.
At the time of the announcement, it appeared that Rodriguez was on his way out of New York, thus failing in his mission to bring a title back to the Bronx. However, months later with a new contract in hand, it only seemed that Rodriguez just wanted more money from his already lucrative contract. Wherever Rodriguez went he could not seem to escape the spotlight or in some cases intentionally brought it upon himself. Whether it was in the tabloids or in Jose Canseco’s latest book. Controversial followed him everywhere. Then came the bombshell. The day was February 8, 2009. I sat on my couch, the ESPN breaking news alert came on, and I attentively watched as my hero hit rock bottom. It was the decisive move in Rodriguez’s fall-from-grace.
Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez had tested positive for anabolic steroids: the biggest name-drop of the steroid era. Just two years prior, the infamous Barry Bonds had overtaken Henry Aaron as baseball’s home run king. Even before Bonds had broken the record, baseball fans across the country (excluding San Francisco) were in search for the next king. Rodriguez was the obvious choice. Considered to be clean and untainted by the steroid era, Rodriguez was supposed to be the savior of baseball’s most hallowed record. In December 2007, Rodriguez, in an interview with “60 minutes,” denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs. It was bad enough to know that your hero was a cheater, but a liar too, was unbearable.
Despite what surfaced, I still held faith in my hero and it fleetingly paid off. After countless letdowns in the postseason, A-Rod had finally won the big one. Less than nine months after his steroid admission, Rodriguez enjoyed a postseason performance for the ages (.365, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs) as he led the Yankees to their 27th World Series title. Unfortunately, outside of this heroic turn of events, Rodriguez has considerably fallen off the map since his shocking revelation. In the past five years, he has missed exactly 193 games. This past fall, he was pinch-hit for twice and was benched in three decisive postseason games due to his lack of productivity at the plate. Nowadays, Rodriguez cannot seem to catch a break. He is due to miss nearly half of this season to yet another hip surgery. Once again, Rodriguez’s days in New York seem to be numbered.
In this era of phony, deceitful athletes it may be better to not waste your time and faith in them because eventually they’ll let you down. We have seen plenty of it lately with cyclist Lance Armstrong and Norte Dame’s Manti Te’o. Childhood can sometimes come to an abrupt end, but the cruel firmness of life continues to go on. Tomorrow is yet another day and with that comes yet another athlete revealing his or her true colors. However, even with what I know now, I will always stand by my hero.
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