I first met Alex Rodriguez at the Delano, the chic South Beach hotel in his hometown of Miami. In the rear of the outdoor restaurant where I waited, a towering white curtain substituted for a wall—like the curtain of a theater. Rodriguez entered stage right, his chin tucked into his chest to avoid recognition, wearing a dark-navy tracksuit and sneakers. He sat down and looked at me brightly—his eyes are a startling hazel. He was oddly upbeat given his current situation, fighting for his professional life after Major League Baseball accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs and suspended him for 211 games, a penalty that could very well end his career.
The drama had made him both combative and reflective. He recalled that when he played on the national youth team, a Major League scout approached him. "I'll never forget what he said to me," Rodriguez said. " 'If you don't fuck this up, son, you'll be the first pick.' " He had just finished his junior year of high school. "It kind of paralyzed me a little bit." On the same trip, the same day, he recalled, he met Scott Boras, the superagent, who told Rodriguez he wanted to represent him when he was ready to go professional. "I'm like, 'What? What are you talking about?' And from that day forward, my life's been kind of different." Later, Boras helped negotiate the contract that made him the highest-paid player in the history of baseball.
The story A-Rod tells about himself is one of damage amid enormous success, of someone who closed himself off, a kid with an absent father who missed his adolescence and young-adulthood while pursuing a singular dream. In our conversations, he mentioned his age—38—several times. He's obviously exhausted; whatever happens, a page is being turned. "It's a game that just takes so much out of you. Every aspect of your life has to be very narrow, very focused. Everything else has to go away. And because of that, I think it's obviously not healthy." He was quick to add: "The last thing I'm looking for is sympathy."
The subtext, unspoken but ever present, is that A-Rod knows chapter and verse what sportswriters and fans and sometimes teammates and coaches have said about him: "A selfish prick," as one member of his entourage put it. By this point, it's a voice in his head. He's spent the last few years thinking about it, evaluating his flaws as a human being, wondering what his role in the creation of his image has been, and hoping that it can be undone.
[Photo Via: USA TODAY]