CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Saying he had a responsibility to give back, Alex Rodriguez briefly addressed the drug scandal that has enveloped his life for the last week Friday night when Miami formally renamed its baseball field in his honor.
With his name affixed to the scoreboard in left field, Rodriguez — who was greeted by a 45-second standing ovation — spoke in public for the first time since acknowledging he took banned substances as a member of the Texas Rangers from 2001-2003.
“I have been so fortunate to have received so much from a game I love so much,” Rodriguez said. “That doesn’t mean I haven’t made mistakes, and unless you’ve been in a cave under the ocean this last week, you know that I’ve made some. What it does mean is that I understand only in America can you dream big, work hard, and be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams.”
The New York Yankees’ third baseman spoke for about seven minutes, opening his remarks by acknowledging the dozens of cameras there for his appearance — his “dysfunctional family,” Rodriguez called that group — and closing by mentioning the scandal that shook baseball.
He asked this year’s Miami baseball team to stand, and had a brief message for them.
“There will be adversity along the way,” Rodriguez said. “But regardless of the challenges that lie ahead, move forward, address your errors and right your path.”
Even after the dramatic week, which began with a Sports Illustrated report that Rodriguez was on a list of 104 players who tested positive in 2003, the Hurricanes’ annual baseball banquet had a festive air.
Miniature bats and popcorn centerpieces adorned the round tables scattered around the infield dirt, and tiny bags of Cracker Jack were at each placesetting.
The way Miami coach Jim Morris saw it, there were no shortage of reasons to celebrate.
“For me, it’s a great night,” Morris said. “It’s a great day for our program because we’re getting a beautiful ballpark, of course named after Alex Rodriguez. ... For me, it’s been a long time waiting and a great day.”
The event was built around the $3.9 million gift for stadium renovations that Rodriguez made to the program in 2003, and having the field renamed “Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field” in his honor.
In 2004, government officials seized the list of 104 names who tested positive and they remain under seal, but Rodriguez’s name was leaked.
“It’s not fair to Alex to pinpoint one guy,” Morris said. “I’m afraid I wouldn’t want to see the list, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s fair to pinpoint one guy.”
Rodriguez did not speak with reporters at the $75-a-seat event.
School officials said a few alumni have complained about Rodriguez’s name attached to the park, but Morris said the overwhelming majority of boosters and others support the gesture.
“It’s obviously a hot issue right now. It’s been a hot issue in baseball for a while,” student body president Brandon Gross said. “But what’s different about Alex Rodriguez is he came out and admitted that he did something wrong and took personal responsibility for his actions. So I think the university is still as proud as when he made the announcement in 2003 to have his name up here.”
The 12-time All-Star selection has a long relationship with Miami, even though he never played for the Hurricanes.
Rodriguez committed to Miami when coming out of South Florida’s Westminster Christian High, but didn’t enroll. Only a few hours before fall classes began at Miami in August 1993, Rodriguez signed his first professional contract with the Seattle Mariners, who lured him away from the Hurricanes with a $1.3 million deal.
A decade later, Rodriguez gave three times that much back to Miami, and has been close with Morris and the program for more than 15 years. He worked out at the school several times this week, including Friday morning.
“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever seen,” Morris said. “The guy’s out here every day, running, lifting, taking ground balls, hitting, trying to get ready to be the best player he can. I know, ultimately, what Alex represents and how hard he’s worked.”
One of Morris’ favorite stories is how Rodriguez acknowledges sneaking into Miami games as a kid, a tale A-Rod also told Friday night, pointing to the left field fence he used to scale to see Hurricane games on Friday nights.
“I think he’s probably overpaid a little bit for back admission,” Morris said.
His donation, the largest ever to the Hurricanes’ baseball program, aided in the building of a new clubhouse, weight room, training room, team meeting room, academic center, video room, press box and four VIP luxury suites. Most of the work is complete.
Other improvements in recent years included new dugouts and improved stadium lighting, restrooms and concession areas.
Miami’s first game in the renamed park is Feb. 20 against Rutgers, the start of a four-game series. Through a spokesman, Rutgers coach Fred Hill declined to say Friday whether having Rodriguez’s name on the stadium added any significance of the trip to his team.
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