As a teenager, my bedroom walls were filled with posters of New York Yankees players. Jeter. Bernie. Tino. Perfect Games. World Series titles. The high point was about 20. I had a big room.
Yet, there was a poster of someone who did not play for the Yankees and I never thought he would. I just loved the way he played baseball. He was a smooth shortstop. A gifted hitter. The Natural and Prodigy stayed side-by-side on my wall for years.
Alex Rodriguez was a favorite player from pretty much the first time I saw. There was something beautiful about his swing, the way it glided through the strike zone and crushed home runs. But seeing ARod was limited because he was in Seattle and MLB.TV was not a thing yet.
Around 1999, I went to a Yankees game with my siblings. They were playing the Mariners and I got to see him up close. My sister had to drop something off for the Mariners from her company, so we had tickets from her company in the family section. She handed off the package over the wall and, in turn, we got a signed baseball from Alex Rodriguez. He was standing right there, just a few steps away. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him, but I didn’t care. Two of my favorite ballplayers were in the building and I was going to get to see them both.
The internet obviously changed the way we track players and games. I followed ARod’s career even as he joined the Texas Rangers and bashed more and more home runs.
Though, I was naïve. For years, I rooted for ARod to break the home run record, to overcome Bonds’ dirty record. I would always say, ARod would do it, and he would be clean. Clearly, I was wrong.
The day everything came out about ARod, a few people were quick to point how much I rooted for him and his “clean” ways. I was kind of sad, definitely disappointed. But it didn’t go as deep as some would think. A lot of that had to do with the way I rooted for sports then. By then, I had stopped going to 40 games a year sitting in the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium. My fandom was tempered much in part because I realized the baseball I grew up with was already tainted. Most of the players I cheered or booed had taken some sort PED. Throughout the history of baseball there are stories of players using something to get an edge, long before The Steroid Era.
What made ARod different? Probably the lies. Probably the way he seemed to show no remorse. Probably the huge contract. Probably all of that.
In 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing Maris’ record, I stood by the phone at work waiting to hear if it would happen because I couldn’t watch it on television. I had a nervous excitement all night and the call came at work to let me know that McGwire indeed broke the record. With all the types of records that happened in baseball before I was born, it felt meaningful to be around for this one.
Those feelings didn’t cease existing because of PEDs. They still happened. I was still a happy teenager. I just view sports with a different lens now.
The same is true with ARod. The years I spent buying his cards and methodically placing them into sleeves for a binder doesn’t change because he made poor decisions – many poor decisions. There are plenty of people who hate him because of the lies and the PEDs, and they are allowed to. But I never like to presume to understand the choices someone makes when I haven’t lived their life.
After the admission of steroids or whatever else he took, after that terrible book about him came out, I still walked into Yankee Stadium wearing an ARod shirt. People didn’t like it, but then again we all make choices we have to live with.
I am still rooting for him. I hope one day he finds peace. But, in the meantime, while he is still playing for the New York Yankees, I will be rooting for him to succeed – and collecting his cards along the way.