August 27, 2013

CHIUSANO | A-Rod Struggles Beyond the Field

Print More

When Alex Rodriguez made his turn around first base in Fenway Park on Aug. 18, his aggressive clap and fist pump were reminiscent of the A-rod Yankee fans had learned to love and despise in 2009. Though this homerun only put the Yankees within two in an almost meaningless midseason game, Rodriguez got his message across to the Boston fans, who were silent for the first time.

Just three innings before, the Boston faithful had created a frenzy in the stadium when Ryan Dempster threw behind Rodriguez in the first pitch of his at-bat. After two more inside fastballs, each one causing more fans to rise to their feet, Dempster seemed to finally find his target, drilling Rodriguez on the elbow and allowing most of Boston to erupt. But as Rodriguez took his jog around the bases in the sixth, it was his turn to speak, giving Dempster some choice words that were kindly blurred out by ESPN.

In the weeks since the MLB suspended Rodriguez for 211 games and then allowed him to play during his appeal process, the media has blurred many of his words, portraying the Yankees star as everything from liar to victim, cheat to martyr. The only time I saw Rodriguez truly able to speak was in an article in the New York Times by George Vecsey called “Thrown by Life’s Curveballs, a Star Missed the Signals.” Vecsey borrowed from an interview Rodriguez gave about his father, back when he was a young phenom in Seattle.

“Dad left us when I was nine,” Rodriguez said in the interview. “What did I know back then? I thought he was coming back. I thought he had gone to the store or something. But he never came back … It still hurts.”

In the article, Vecsey suggests a correlation between Rodriguez’s misguided decisions throughout his career and his father’s disappearance. “Rodriguez missed the voice in his childhood saying, ‘Alex, cut that out,’” Vecsey writes. Though Vecsey’s angle here is poignant and unique, it is nevertheless hard to fully accept. Overcoming the loss of a father without succumbing to the additional pressures this poses takes strong character, something Rodriguez, so far, has yet to prove.

I worked at a baseball camp in New Jersey this summer, with kids ranging from eight to 18. In the last week, a foster mother dropped off two boys — Dante and Anthony — that she had just taken into her home. “Watch out for them,” she told me. “They’re going to be off the wall.” Dante wore an orange Cal Ripken jersey and a navy blue hat that was too small for his head, spattered with illegible signatures across the brim. When he started to get a little wild, I pulled him to the side and asked him where he got that jersey. “My dad bought it for me when he took me to the game.” He couldn’t look me in the eye and wanted to turn away. “Who signed the hat?” I asked, trying to hold his attention a few more seconds. “Man, how am I supposed to know? My dad got them for me.“ Then he ran back to his game of wiffle ball.

Anthony, the older of the two, was much calmer, but needed more attention. He was constantly asking to have a catch with me and always wanted to talk. “Have you ever been up near Paterson?” he asked. I didn’t know Jersey very well, but I told him yes. “For real,” his face lit up, and he put the ball he was about to throw to me back into his glove. “You know my dad works over there? He builds patios, all them big patios you see on the houses, that’s my dad.”

Alex Rodriguez’s father, Victor, owned a successful shoe store in Miami before he cut out on his family.

“He had been so good to me, actually spoiled me because I was the baby of the family. I couldn’t understand what he had done,” Rodriguez said in the same interview.

At what point does the heroic father who took his son to ball games become just the father who left his children behind? For Dante and Anthony, that threshold has not been crossed yet. Like Rodriguez, they may some day resent their fathers beyond repair. But that feeling of resentment might be less painful for these boys than putting their faith in an idol who will only disappoint them.

On the last day of camp, Anthony did not show up. The day before, he had gotten into a small fight with one of the other campers. I took him aside and tried to calm him down, but he was fuming. I put my hand on his shoulder but he pushed me away. “Don’t touch me, you’re not my dad!” he yelled.  When his foster mother came to pick up Dante, I asked where Anthony was. She told me he had been increasingly disrespectful and violent at home, so she had sent him back to the boys home. Maybe the pain of losing his father, the very same pain Rodriguez has carried for 30 years now, is starting to become real for Anthony.

In the same week of camp, interestingly enough, I coached a young relative of Yankee great, Joe Dimaggio. Nine-year-old Ryan DiMaggio was a quiet, shy, little leftie first baseman with the drive and passion of a young boy with baseball in his blood. This is not to say that Ryan’s family had a history of role model fathers. DiMaggio was divorced twice — once from actress Marilyn Monroe — and was allegedly involved with seven other women. Sometimes the chips fall where they may. It takes true personal character to not follow in the footsteps of a lousy father.

For Rodriguez — whether he has his father, or more likely, himself to blame — the damage is essentially done. We can judge him for a professional life that has been mired in scandals — both personal and on the field — we can even turn our noses up at using a bad father as a scapegoat for terrible decisions. But no reporter or fan of the game can understand what it felt like for Rodriguez, or Dante, or Anthony, to watch their own fathers walk away.

All Rodriguez can really do now is grin and bear it. If he continues to hit the gap in right center field while he still can, and eventually accepts — with dignity — the punishment the MLB will inevitably dole out, then maybe the unforgiving fans of this game can learn to forgive.

Original Author: Scott Chiusano