By: Tom Singer
Alex Rodriguez proved that you don't have to be experienced to make a difference in people's lives. On July
27, 1996 (Rodriguez's 21st birthday), when the Mariners signed their brilliant young shortstop to a four-year contract extension,
team president Chuck Armstrong called Rodriguez "the brightest young star in baseball, both on and off the field."
That season, Rodriguez established all-time highs at his position in runs, hits, doubles, extra-base hits, and
slugging percentage while setting Mariner records in runs, doubles, average, hits, and total bases. His .358 mark was the
highest by a right-handed hitter in 57 years, his 54 doubles led the American League, and his 36 homers were the eighth-highest
ever for s shortstop. And it was only his first full season!
Last season, he "slumped" to .300 with 23 homers, 84 RBIs, 40 doubles, and 176 hits despite suffering bruised
ribs in June in a collision with Toronto's Roger Clemens. Rodriguez missed two weeks, then resumed playing. "That might have
been a mistake," he said. "I wasn't able to throw the ball the way I should or swing the bat even 70 percent. I was playing
hurt, but I wanted to play."
He exhibits that same drive off the field. "You take every day and try to be the best person you can," he said.
That's why he donated a baseball field to the Boys & Girls Club in Miami, where he spent a lot of time growing
up. In Seattle, he established an educational program called Grand Slam for Kids.
When invited to speak at Wing Luke Elementary School in Seattle last January, he told a packed gymnasium to
focus on education, be responsible, and respect others. In May he treated 200 kids to a Mariner game. "He is a wonderful man,"
Wing Luke principal Ellen Punyon said.
And a wonderful shortstop.