A-Rod fills in scholarship gaps for students who walked ‘the same path’

Slugger Alex Rodriguez with Phalande Jean at a lunch in fall 2014 for University of Miami student beneficiaries of Rodriguez-funded scholarships. Jean recently graduated with degrees in visual journalism and psychology.
Slugger Alex Rodriguez with Phalande Jean at a lunch in fall 2014 for University of Miami student beneficiaries of Rodriguez-funded scholarships. Jean recently graduated with degrees in visual journalism and psychology.

With her father battling kidney problems and on disability and her mother out of work, the last thing Samantha Rodriguez wanted to do after graduating from Miami Sunset High School with a sterling 5.4 GPA was become a financial burden on her parents.

So instead of applying to Ivy League schools, she took out student loans and decided to stay home and enroll at FIU’s Honors College because it was going to be cheaper. Then, last December, after her first semester in which she got all A’s but for one B, Rodriguez received an email informing her she had received $11,000 to help pay for her classes.

“I said, ‘I think you have the wrong person. Are you sure?’” Rodriguez, 19, said last week. “Sure enough I found out I got the A-Rod scholarship.”

As Samantha discovered, it wasn’t her uncle Alex who funded her scholarship. It was that other, unrelated A-Rod.

The Yankee slugger and Miami Westminster Christian grad, who has made more than $378 million in his steroid-tainted career, gave FIU $240,000 last year to help fund 10, four-year scholarships for first-generation college students. Rodriguez went straight from high school to the pros, without going to college.

His money, matched by the state of Florida for a total impact of $420,000, goes toward tuition, internships and technology stipends to help the 10 Alex Rodriguez All-Stars in Education Scholars buy things like laptop computers.

Monday, those students, ll selected because of their academic achievement during their freshman year in FIU’s Honor College, have been invited to bring an guest and watch Rodriguez and the Yankees open a two-game series against the Marlins at Marlins Park. In addition to providing tickets and food vouchers, Rodriguez has invited his guests to come watch him during batting practice, where they’ll get to meet him.

Some of those students, like Danna Samhan didn’t really know who Rodriguez was until she looked him up on Google. But she’s excited, nonetheless, to put A-Rod’s money to good use and to meet him on Monday. She will use her A-Rod scholarship money next year to help pay for study abroad programs in Costa Rica and France.

“It’s super nice because it’s not just him throwing money in our face,” said Samhan, who said she’s bringing a friend from high school with her to meet Rodriguez. “He wants to meet us, see his money is going in the right direction.”

Rodriguez, a three-time league MVP who turns 40 on July 27, did the same thing last year when he met with four students at the University of Miami. In 2004, a year after Rodriguez gave UM $3.9 million to renovate its baseball stadium, he gave the school an additional $500,000 to create an endowment scholarship program for alumni of the Boys and Girls Clubs. That money has gone to 25 students since, according to a spokeswoman.

Recent UM grad Phalande Jean, who moved to Pompano Beach from Haiti with her twin brother and mother when she was nine years old and grew up at the Boys and Girls club, benefited from Rodriguez’s gift even though she had no idea who he was. Jean, 21, received $3,000 in scholarships each year she attended UM before graduating with degrees in Visual Journalism and Psychology last month.

Now she’s heading to Syracuse University for graduate school, appreciative that Rodriguez’s money filled the scholarship gaps she previously needed student loans to cover. She also has the memories of a special, private lunch she and three other UM students had with Rodriguez last fall at the student center known as the Rathskeller.

“He had a genuine interest about our stories, where we came from and where we were headed,” Jean said. “One of his messages was his drive to move forward and not let his past define him. And a lot of us first-generation students who fought through really bad things in our lives can identify with that. It’s about where you finish.”

Rodriguez, signed with the Yankees through 2017, is quietly finishing his career after a year’s suspension with a strong showing on the field. Playing on two surgically repaired hips, he is continuing to move up baseball’s record books.

Rodriguez moved past Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time home run chart last month and is closing in on Babe Ruth. He moved past Lou Gehrig and Barry Bonds into fourth place in RBIs, and entered the weekend only a few hits shy of 3,000, the benchmark for baseball’s best hitters.

But none of that really seems to matter to the kids who will meet him on Monday for the first time. They’re just happy he decided to share some of his money. It’s made a difference in their lives.

“It’s about doing for the next generation what an older generation did for me,” Rodriguez said through a spokeswoman of the FIU scholarships. “It’s also important to me that they’re getting this support from someone who walked their path. I’ve been where they are. And it’ll be their turn to step up and help the next generation.”