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Although he lives a life most people could only imagine, Alex Rodriguez is somebody just trying to rep for the Dominican Republic.

by: Kevin L. Carter

Shaquille O’Neal says the works is his, but even he’s gotta concede that much of it, especially the Spanish-speaking part of it, belongs to Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez of Miami and Seattle. The Seattle Mariners shortstop will not be 23 years old until this July, but he is still the proud possessor of the title "best shortstop in baseball." In 1996, he put up some of the greatest numbers-.358 batting average, 36 home runs, 123 runs batted in-ever recorded for a shortstop. His team is one of the strongest in the American League. He is rich, handsome and well-loved in Miami and beyond. He has a burgeoning endorsement career that cold place him a unique position among professional athletes in America. That may be why it hurt so bad when he got robbed this past winter. A-Rod stood shirtless in front of his locker at the Mariners’ spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona last March and thought about his pain. The NCAA basketball Round of 16 was loudly playing from the clubhouse TV. The cortocampo (shortstop) for the ages wolfed down two bowls of Wheaties while teammates such as bald slugger Jay Buhner, who could easily team up with actor John Malkovich in a sequel to Surf Nazis Must Die, walked through Rodriguez’s field of vision.

"There was a guy that I knew, that I took under my wing," said A-Rod, whose vocal patterns are a curious mixture of Southern inflections, Latino Miami sounds and hip-hip jargon. "I took him to my charity events, the golf tournaments, let him stay in my house sometimes. I wanted to show him the way. He seemed like a nice guy, so I took him in."

Burglars, possibly led by Rodriguez’s alleged friend, took more than $100,000 in cash, cognac, cigars and Armani suits from Rodriguez’s home in coral Gables, Florida. somebody even took his All-Star game jersey and those he had signed by Ken Griffey Jr. and Cal Ripken.

"We called the cops, and they got him," said Rodriguez. "The guy was trying to sell the stuff right down the street from where I live."

After Rodriguez went on a trip to Chicago later, his home was broken into again. Such is the dilemma of life for a man whose lifestyle often resembles that put forward in a Puff Daddy-produced music video, or any others that reflect the consumerist, materialist late ’90s zeitgeist that permeates so much of today’s hip-hop.

What many rappers fantasize about-money, power, respect, Lexus’s and Rolexes, women, champagne, cigars, cognac-is the life enjoyed by superstars such as Michael Jordan, Shaq, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Tiger Woods and A-Rod. But A-Rod also knows that some people are gonna try to stick him for his papers. And in his case, they succeeded.

"I feel violated, like I was raped. There is no other way to describe it," said Rodriguez, who, reluctantly, is considering moving out of his neighborhood and into a more secure, possibly gated community. "You feel like there are no other options than to move out of the city. But I live Miami. I have roots there. If I do leave, it will be tough, but I have to look out for myself."

Older athletes such as Jordan and Cal Ripken have cautioned him to watch who he allows into his life. "It is very hard to make friends, and it’s hard to determine whom to bring into you inner circle," he says.

The traumatic events have not derailed A-Rod’s joy for baseball or for life. He is a man who is centered, ambitious and in control of his thoughts and his direction. "I’m in the process of learning every day," said A-Rod. "I am in a great position here with a great, strong tea, with two or three potential Hall of Famers, and I am just sitting back and learning from them."

He’s a happy, friendly man who listens to Bad Boy music, especially Mase, and loves to player every position on the field on his Playstation baseball games.

Rodriguez was born in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, a Dominican stronghold even back in the mid-’70s. His family moved to the Dominican Republic, where both of his parents came from, for four years and then to Miami’s Kendall suburb, where A-Rod came up. His father left the family when he was age 10, leaving his mother, Lourdes Morales, to raise A-Rod, his brother and sister alone. "I consider my mom MVP-Most Valuable Parent," he says.

But Rodriguez said he was fortunate that his father gave him one thing-his baseball ability-and that he grew up in Miami, where baseball is played year-round.

Playing in Miami youth leagues and at Westminster Christian High School, a national powerhouse, gave Rodriguez a different athletic socialization process than most Dominican ballplayers. But he is appreciative of his heritage as the latest, and greatest, in a long line of shortstops to come from Dominican backgrounds.

Strangely enough, his multiracial appearance-kinky, dark brown hair cropped close in a fade, bright gray-green eyes and light bronze skin-and Spanish surname are not enough to acquaint the average American sports fan with A-Rod’s ancestry. He says, incredulously, that most people do not perceive him as Dominican or Latino.

"So many people don’t even consider me Latin," he said. "They’re used to the guys that come from over there. I want to be know as a Dominican. That’s what I am, 100 percent. People are like, ‘Where are you from?’ Most of them don’t know. When you see (Raul) Mondesi, Pedro Guerrero, Alfredo Griffin (all dark-skinned, African-looking players), you immediately associate them with being Dominican. I’m not under Black or white, either. Lots of people think I am Puerto Rican or Cuban. I’m kinda ignored. I have a duty and responsibility to continue the legacy of Dominican in baseball."

He concedes, sheepishly, that his less-then-perfect spoken Spanish does not help his cause. "I have to work a lot more at it," he said. But some work on this level on his part could result in huge paydays for A-rod, both north and south of the border.

Right now, he endorses Nike shoes and clothes, Giorgio Armani suits, EA sports, Upper Deck baseball cards and several other products. he is, right now, the most well-compensated, most potentially mainstream Latino athlete in America. Only boxer Oscar de la Hoya, the Mexican-American lightweight, has anywhere near the endorsement juice that A-Rod possesses.

Baseball is, by far, the most popular mainstream sport among Latinos, and the proportion of Latinos in the game is increasing by leaps and bounds every year. But most great Latino baseball players-Juan Gonzalez, Livan Hernanadez, Sammy Sosa (whose voice was dubbed over on his Denny’s commercial), Ivan Rodriguez, Roberto and Sandy Alomar-are not recognizable enough or lack good enough English to play the Jordan role for major League Baseball, Most of baseball’s biggest endorsers-A-Rod’s teammate Ken Griffey Jr., Tony Gwynn, Frank Thomas-are African-American, but Black folks in America have largely given up on baseball.

Think of the endorsements A-Rod’s idol Cal Ripken has, double that by including Latin America, and you can see his potential. Only A-Rod, and to a much lesser extent, Bobby Bonilla, both American-born, hip-hop culture-raised, and Latino at the core, can bridge the gap between Spanish- and English-speaking America.

Just as he is interested in bring his trigueno face and 6-3, ambassadorial status and endorsement prominence, Rodriguez is also very interested in bring baseball to more inner-city youth, who have largely lost interest in the game.

"Everything is generated through the kids. If I were baseball commissioner, I would try to make an impact across the country with wiffleball leagues, or some type of speed guns, make things appealing to kids, where they can enjoy coming to the park. The NBA has done so much with marketing their game, and we need to do the same."

Baseball, said A-Rod, is a game that all can play. "Baseball has no prejudices. You can be tall, short, Black, white, it doesn’t matter. Through hard work, a guy like this can make a lot of money."

He and his best friend, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees, often compare notes on their respective games. The two men, who stay at each other’s homes when they visit each other’s city during the season, look like they could be brothers, and you could actually imagine them fighting over the same women. A-Rod says none of that happens, but that the one-on-one contests they have in basketball are fiercely contested.

"On the basketball court, Derek has no chance against me," said Rodriguez. "He’s a pretty good player, but I think he enjoys watching more than he does playing." But it was Jeter’s team that knocked Rodriguez’s team out of the American League playoffs last year. This year, A-Rod hopes to get some payback on his homie.

"I think we have a team which we firmly believe can compete at the playoff level, and maybe reach the World Series. That’s the goal this year."

I am NOT affiliated with the New York Yankees. I am just a fan. I am not Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez or any other member of the Yankee ballclub. This site is mainly for entertainment purposes only.