BRONX, New York -- It was a night of highs and lows at a sold-out Yankees Stadium Friday night - much like Alex Rodriguez’s 22-year career in the major leagues, 13 of which were with the Bronx Bombers.
A pre-game celebration out on the field with his daughters and the Steinbrenners, owners of the Yankees franchise, was subsequently washed out with thunderous rain, delaying the start of the game close to a half hour. No hope of playing his trademark third base, and then moments before the end of the game, manager Joe Girardi sent him to do just that at the ninth inning.
It was that moment that put the seal on what was a memorable night in the Bronx and a 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays for one of the highest-paid and one of the most polarizing figures in baseball history.
In a post-game press conference, Rodriguez said unequivocally, “playing third base” was the highlight of the night. Girardi said, fighting back tears, he was hoping the game would align in such a way that Rodriguez would be able to play third base by the end of the game Friday night, saying “I wanted it to be something he never forgets.”
It would indeed be unforgettable. “That level of love is something I’ll never forget,” said Rodriguez, referring to the Yankees and his fans.
It would be unforgettable for fans, as well. A-Rod, as he is known to so many of them, here and around the world, leaves few indifferent.
"So exciting, so emotional for Latino fans and Dominicans especially, we're really proud," said Yeliza Ureña, a young Dominican-American woman who identifies with Rodriguez, in part, because of their shared Dominican roots.
One Latino grandfather said once he heard the news about Rodriguez's last game, he knew he needed to come with his son and young grandson. "His goodbye was one filled with honor," said Juan Rodriguez [no relation] in Spanish. "I was surprised he wouldn't be playing next season, but once I knew, I had to bring my grandson to this game I consider historic."
As a native New Yorker, but newly-based New York journalist, who is but a casual observer of baseball, the call from my boss to head to Yankees Stadium last Sunday morning was a thrilling one. Once on site, it was clear the organization would indeed make a historic announcement regarding Alex Rodriguez's less-than-stellar performance as of late. In the eyes of many, Rodriguez is no longer at the top of his game.
It was a powerful press conference where Alex Rodriguez's mixed emotions were not only visible, but palpable to the journalists in the room, myself included.
Fast forward to Friday night, and Rodriguez's last game as a player and my first game at the new Yankees stadium, is one I certainly will not forget.
I was born here in New York City and have always liked the Yankees, despite growing up in Queens, much to the chagrin of many of my Mets-rooting family members. I've cheered on the Yankees from afar most of my life, though; from Utah in high school and in college, and from Atlanta and Miami during most of my twenties.
I did happen to be living in New York, however, when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. The energy and excitement in the city then was electrifying and Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ new Big Apple anthem "Empire State of Mind" was playing nonstop. The win was thanks, in part, to A-Rod's talent and work ethic. At the time, it was already a comeback from prior foibles and he would come back yet again in 2015 after his suspension because of the infamous Biogenesis performance-enhancing drugs scandal.
Rodriguez has been no stranger to controversy in his twenty-two years in the major leagues, but sports reporters much more in the know about baseball than this journalist, understand that stats-wise, at his prime Rodriguez was second to none.
Rodriguez was the leagues’ most valuable player three times, fourteen-time all-star, and comes to number four on the list of all-time home runs in major league baseball.
And yet, in his more than a dozen years at the Yankees, he brought only that one World Series title and a series of controversies; from performance-enhancing drugs to the parade of tabloid headlines surrounding his life on and off the field.
Rodriguez's sudden departure from the game leaves mixed reactions from Yankees fans. Some love him, while others love to hate him.
One Yankees fan Friday night told me he has been less than impressed. "They paid him way too much money and he brought only one championship," Carlos Correa said. After Friday night, Rodriguez will still be paid close to $27 million as part of his contract. Afterward, he is expected to sign a new contract as special advisor and instructor for the Yankees. As it pertains to Rodriguez's infamous use of performance-enhancing drugs, Correa added, "if you're supposed to be a role mode you're not supposed to be doing that."
Despite this, young baseball players at New York Empire Baseball who I met earlier in the week, find inspiration in Alex Rodriguez’s talent and hard work on the field. Kids like Mateo Sucre, who at twelve is a very promising pitcher, or Argenys Morban, a 19-year-old Dominican-American who tells me like Rodriguez, he has come to realize that perhaps it’s time to move on from playing baseball.
Perhaps, Rodriguez will be remembered as a showcase of what not to do once an athlete achieves baseball stardom. He was flawed and his glory days are behind him, but like Empire Baseball’s founder Jordan Baltimore told me, here's hoping that Rodriguez will be able to harness the lessons learned from his personal highs and lows to positively influence young ball players in his new role.
I believe Rodriguez is up to the challenge and by all accounts identifying talent and developing said talent is one of Rodriguez's innate strengths. Going to another team to get four more home runs under his belt and join Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, in that very exclusive 700 club, might prove very tempting.
But remaining with the Yankees in this new role might just be his greatest shot at securing a coveted spot in Cooperstown, at the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’ll first be eligible five years from now.
Edgar Zúñiga Jr. is a producer based in Noticias Telemundo's New York bureau for the network's national-evening newscast, "Noticiero Telemundo." Telemundo is a division of NBCUniversal.