As we all know Alex Rodriguez has been accused of steroid use and has been suspended, putting a black mark on the career of one of the best players of all time and one with as much natural talent as any player in the history of the game. The .358 batting average and 54 doubles as a 20-year-old? Tarnished. The 40-40 season as a 23-year-old? Blemished. The 3 MVPs and 14 All-Star games? Tainted. So why do I still like A-Rod?
10-year-old me idolized Alex Rodriguez. As a shortstop forced to move to third base, he was my logical role model. Fast, powerful, and slick fielding (not to mention movie star good looks); he was everything I thought I was and wanted to become. I was enamored by the numbers, the personality, and the money. I was blinded by my own admiration; too caught up in watching the best player I had ever seen do things on the baseball field that not many before him could. The speed to steal 40 bases, the power to hit 50+ home runs, the bat to hit .300 every year, and the glove to win two Gold Gloves. I had never seen anything like him AND he was forced to move from shortstop to third base just like me? I thought I had hit the jackpot. In video games, I would build my team around him. In my 5th grade class we had to make our own magazines. Mine was a baseball magazine with a player spotlight on Alex Rodriguez (also had one on Sammy Sosa, boy did I know what I was talking about…). A-Rod could do no wrong in my eyes: until 2009; when he did wrong. He admitted to ESPN that he used steroids from 2001-2003 to justify the mega-deal that he had signed with the Texas Rangers. He claimed that he was clean and that we should all judge him from that point forward. I was naïve enough to believe him, again blinded by the admiration for A-Rod even after his move to the Evil Empire: the New York Yankees. He was my hero and I was standing by his side. Fast forward to 2013 and Rodriguez has again been charged with using steroids and has even been suspended this time. At 21, I can no longer justify defending A-Rod by using my boyhood idolization, nor can I defend him using any facts or logic. He made a mistake and compounded that mistake by making it over and over again; lying about it and making excuses when he got caught (Oddly enough Ryan Braun is doing the same thing because it worked so well for Alex…). But I can defend him by saying that there is no evidence that PEDs have any effect on a baseball player’s talent. So without evidence, why all the hate for A-Rod?
Rodriguez is a master of the press conference. Give people your time but never really say anything of substance and don’t answer the tough questions. He gives off the aura of an entertainer not a baseball player. He has become a prima donna worrying more about his image than his stats to the public eye. Who else would be furious about a camera spotting Cameron Diaz feed them popcorn? (That would be a top 3 moment in my life) The way he acts has rubbed people the wrong way and has made him into the villain that he is today. The ESPN and MLB Network coverage of him has turned people into full-fledged A-Rod haters, aiding the witch hunt against him. Maybe this is why I still hope he performs well. When sports networks are heaping praise, I am usually the one going the other way (e.g. Puig, LeBron, Tebow, any QB who ‘wins’ the Super Bowl) and that continues with Alex. All the bashing has me hoping he will rebound and have one more flash of brilliance, one more streak to remind people how good he actually is. 21-year-old me hopes for one more peek at the greatness 10-year-old me was so engulfed in. Call it nostalgia, call it blind ignorance, call it whatever you want, it is what it is; my childhood hero in “the battle for his life”.
I never became what 10-year-old me wanted (minus the good looks). I don’t have a MVP-type season under my belt at 21; in fact I am just starting my senior year of college and haven’t played a meaningful baseball game in three years. I don’t have a multimillion dollar endorsement deal and contract; I work for less than $10 an hour at a part time job on campus. But I still have the memories of what A-Rod was and what he was to me: an idol. He is a boyhood hero that everyone else has turned their back on. He brings 21-year-old me back to the backyard where 10-year-old me was pretending to be Rodriguez, he brings me back to the video games, building a team around the best player in the game because no one else deserved the spotlight. So maybe it is nostalgia that keeps me rooting for A-Rod. Maybe the romanticism of the whole thing makes me turn a blind eye to the mounting troubles of a man that I haven’t ever met, I’m not sure. One thing I am sure about though is that I would like nothing more than to see Rodriguez, the man with 647 home runs, hit #648, touch home plate, turn to the crowd and cameras, give a big DX chop, and walk off in the sunset forever. My hero.