In Search of A-Rod’s Soul

Jose Vilson Jose

Make no bones about it; I got love for Alex Rodriguez, the 3rd baseman for the New York Yankees.

His swift and graceful swing, his trot, and that swagger he shows when he comes up to bat. The ease in which he picks up balls coming down the left field line and gets them to whoever’s platooning at 1st base. Even the way he wears the uniform makes you want to don the uniform too. Not to mention how well he’s made so many young Latinos proud to be Dominican, even when he’s had conflicts with that identity, his unwavering work ethic, and the astronomical numbers he puts up every season.

And it’s with these reasons that I, like many Yankee fans, have this internal struggle as to whether we should believe the man’s hype. He’s not only got the talent and the numbers to prove it, but he’s got the makings of someone with the perfect life: blonde streaks, good build, beautiful (ex?)-wife, and enough millions to buy out his own baseball team. He also has a hint of arrogance that’s subtle enough for the general populace not to notice, but enough to annoy others. Until the last couple of years, he still showed signs of vulnerability. Now, he’s reached a level of stardom that’s hard to come down from, embroiled in messy affairs and also coming across as a bit dispassionate.

Oh yeah, and he’s not that good when batters are in scoring position (.245 this year), and it’s even worse since we expect him to have a good 1.000 when there’s that situation. He’s a monster of a player, but a monster to himself. After watching Rodriguez’ Yankeeography on the YES Network, you get a sense that as truly phenomenal a player as he is, the pressure of his contract, the media, the fans, the owners and general managers, and his own teammates gets to him, even if it’s just a little bit. In particular, if anyone’s watched him in the last few games, he gets up there, same swag, same gallop, same batting stance, but if there are runners in scoring position, he anxiously and genuinely wants to hit a homerun that’ll further cement his place amongst the pantheon of great Yankees before him, like DiMaggio, Ruth, Mantle, and Jackson.

Alex Rodriguez SwingUnfortunately, it’s that desire to be the greatest that prevents him from doing so. Everyone’s entitled to their own definition of greatness, and it’s with that definition of greatness that A-Rod willingly and unapologetically lives with, even with the justified scrutiny he lives with. It’s amazing how through the 1996-2000 years of Yankee legacy, only the Yankees themselves went into the season with really high expectations, and everyone else just hoped and imagined. Now, due to these star players and steep contracts (along with the steep prices to go to these games), we’ve expected a championship, and that’s where we might have fallen wayside with A-Rod particularly.

Is the onus on us Yankee fans, whose hubris is internationally-renown and well-documented? Is the onus on the players and agents who help to drive up expectations by setting a dollar figure on the expectations we have for our roster of 10 on the field? Or is it really on the owners for charging us so much and pointing the blame directly at the people who they pay extraordinary money for? Can we who actually have an affinity for all things Yankee-related believe in such things as rookie development and rebuilding years, something we haven’t seen in New York City since the early 90s?

A-Rod has become symbolic of all that’s right and wrong with the league. The steriod allegations (none of which have been proven), the peculiar sense of family values, the conflict of identity for Latino players representing both homeland and citizenship to the United States, the vice grip of agents, publicists, and handlers, and the dogged scrutiny of the media for the next big story made from nothing more than a footnote, and of course, he’s in the most prestigious offensive position on the most successful team in US sports history.

But for anyone watching the way I watch second-most favorite player (interestingly, Derek Jeter’s my first), it’s also a testament to the struggles of human fallacy. There aren’t enough extrinsic influences in the world that can bring this man peace so long as he doesn’t win a championship. He’s the emblem for those who’ve always had unfathomably high expectations set for them and could never quite reach them. Every strikeout, missed play, and every year we spend waiting for #27 only serves to further scathe A-Rod’s legacy.

Alex Rodriguez is currently hitting .295 in the last 30 days, but he’s hitting .143 in the last 7 days, which means he’s spent more time getting pelted by the ball than pelting the ball itself recently. These slumps constantly remind him of how much harder he has to work, on the field, in the clubhouse, in his home, and in his mind. If they can somehow dodge the unlucky fate of these numerous and untimely injuries, he’ll also have to search for the A-Rod that beat up on the Minnesota Twins in ’04, or the regular season A-Rod of ’03, ’05, and ’07.

Will you go the way of Patrick Ewing, Jim Kelly, and Don Mattingly or Joe Namath, Wade Boggs, and yes, Willis Reed? Your story’s far from over, but rarely has the fate of a 25-man baseball team rested on the performance of one man the way it does with you. Rarely does a whole team’s legion of fans both loathe and heavily anticipate one man’s at-bat with men on base in a pressure situation. And rarely does that man have as much potential and talent as you do, A-Rod.

The question remains: Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez, where is your soul?

“90 feet from home …”

jose, who’s a Yankee fan through and through …