He has bought tickets for Miami Westminster Christian’s state championship baseball team and invited 50 children from the Boys and Girls Club of Miami to be at Marlins Park on Monday night for his homecoming.
The 10 FIU students who are receiving scholarship money from his $240,000 gift to the school last fall are getting on-field passes to come and meet him during batting practice.
Alex Rodriguez doesn’t have nearly as many fans as he used to when he was baseball’s golden boy. But the 39-year-old New York Yankees slugger — whose career has been tainted by steroids, scandal and suspensions over the past decade — still draws a crowd. And so do the first-place Bronx Bombers.
The Marlins are expecting some of their biggest attendance figures of the season Monday and Tuesday nights as Rodriguez, who continues to move up baseball’s record book, closes in on becoming the 29th member of the 3,000-hit club.
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Marlins president David Samson said he’s expecting crowds in excess of 30,000 both nights. Samson is encouraging fans to buy parking in advance and show up two hours early like on Opening Day to avoid getting into the park late.
Tickets are more expensive than usual — not only on the Marlins dynamic pricing plan, but also on the secondary market. SeatGeek had tickets starting at $72 for Monday’s game and $64 for Tuesday’s. Tickets for this weekend’s series against the Rockies were starting at $18 to $24 on SeatGeek.
“Anytime somebody gets 3,000 hits that’s something special — regardless of the past or what’s transpired,” Marlins veteran utilityman Jeff Baker said. “I hope when he gets it — if he gets it against us — it doesn’t hurt. But you take your hat off to him when he does because that’s the right thing to do. No matter what, whether you’re feeling good physically or bad physically, getting a hit is hard.”
Entering Saturday night’s game in Baltimore, Rodriguez had 2,994 career hits and ranked fourth in career RBI (1,999) and home runs (665).
He’s also having a much better season than anyone expected after he was suspended by baseball for the entire 2014 season for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal. Playing on two surgically repaired hips, Rodriguez entered the Saturday hitting .275 with 11 homers and 30 RBI, and ranked 11th in the American League in OPS (.878).
But Rodriguez’s pursuit of the 3,000-hit club — and many other career milestones he has set this season — are hardly getting the same kind of attention others have in the past because of his troublesome history.
Anthony McCarron, a baseball writer for the New York Daily News, said when Derek Jeter was closing in on 3,000 hits in 2011, it was being discussed and written about everywhere. Jeter, though, was a universally loved figure — and the Yankees were pushing his accomplishments hard.
When Rodriguez tied Willie Mays on May 1 with a game-winning home run at Fenway Park, all the Yankees did was produce this brief acknowledgment on Twitter: “With his homer in the 8th inning, AROD ties Willie Mays with No. 660.”
The Yankees are playing down A-Rod’s milestones on purpose. They don’t want to pay him the millions in bonuses ($6 million a pop) they agreed to years ago when Rodriguez finally achieves these milestones because of his tainted past.
Still, that hasn’t stopped home-run king Barry Bonds and others from supporting Rodriguez, who has made $378 million in his career and is under contract with New York for another $42 million through 2017.
“No one expected him to play this well,” McCarron said. “The way he’s played has changed the conversation about him. There’s always going to be a segment of Yankees fans and others who won’t root for him because they think he’s a cheater, and there’s the segment of Yankee fans who will always support him because he wears pinstripes. What he’s done this year is win over the fans who only care about his production.”
Rodriguez has two former Yankees teammates he played with on the Marlins: pitcher David Phelps, who is scheduled to start Tuesday’s game, and Ichiro Suzuki, who after Rodriguez is the next closest active player to making the 3,000-hit club.
“He’s got a special place in my heart,” said Phelps, who added that Rodriguez took him under his wing as a rookie and used to take him aside to talk strategy. “When he hit the home run to pass Willie Mays, I sent him a text congratulating him. He’s just one of those guys that’s made some mistakes, but at the same time we’re all human. He’s just a guy that loves the game of baseball, really has a passion for it and does a really good job of helping younger players get comfortable in the big leagues.”
Ichiro, who used to have Rodriguez over to his house as a friend when A-Rod played for the Rangers and he was with the Mariners, said if A-Rod reaches 3,000 hits against the Marlins he would stop and applaud him.
“I haven’t played a lot of baseball in the last two years, but I feel like I’m in a good place,” Rodriguez told reporters on May 27 after he broke Lou Gehrig’s AL record for RBI. “I’m happy. I’m having fun. I think for me in a weird way, the time off was a blessing in disguise. I was able to get some rest, change my workout regimen a little bit. I just feel like I’m in a better place and more explosive than I’ve been.”
Odds are, though, Rodriguez won’t get many at-bats when the Yankees are in town. He has started all but three games this season as a designated hitter and was used only as a pinch-hitter in the two previous games the Yankees played at a National League park (where the DH isn’t employed).
That’s of course unless manager Joe Girardi changes his mind and lets A-Rod start at first or third base in his hometown — in front of all those fans he invited to come watch him. Rodriguez also is providing tickets to Miami Columbus’ state championship team. The Explorers will be there Tuesday.
“We’re excited to be going to support Alex,” said Westminster Christian coach Emil Castellanos, whose team also received an invite from A-Rod to watch him play during spring training. “When we won our state championship he was one of the first people to reach out and congratulate us. So when he passed Willie Mays we made sure to reach out and congratulate him. He’s become more and more a part of our family.”
Samson said if Rodriguez reaches the 3,000-hit milestone at Marlins Park, the teams “will naturally” take a moment to pause and recognize the accomplishment. The Marlins also plan to put up a graphic on the big screen in the stadium.
“Three thousand hits is 3,000 hits,” Samson said. “It’s not for me to be a judge. If fans want to cheer when he gets his 3,000th hit they should cheer. And if fans wants to boo they should boo. They should just be here to do one or the other.”