10/10/2002 9:05 pm ET
A-Rod donates $3.9 million
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Alex Rodriguez never attended University of Miami, although he grew up near the campus in the Coral Gables neighborhood just south of downtown.
Yet, the Texas Rangers All-Star shortstop is donating $3.9 million to the UM's baseball program, the university announced Thursday. The gift, which is being given in equal increments over the next six years, will be used toward refurbishing Mark Light Stadium, where the Hurricanes play baseball, and to establish an annual scholarship in perpetuity for a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
"My mom is very proud of me," Rodriguez said. "This is something I wanted to do for a long time. ... I didn't have the privilege of playing for Miami. I still feel very connected at heart." He said he also intends to enroll at Miami and earn his bachelor's degree.
The ballpark will eventually be named after Rodriguez, the Major League's best-paid player with eight years to go on a 10-year, $252 million contract. Rodriguez, who shagged fly balls, took batting practice and worked as a bat boy in the ballpark, was selected as a 17-year-old by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the 1993 First-Year Player draft.
"When I signed my contract with the Seattle Mariners in 1993, there was only one other possible decision I might have made," Rodriguez said Thursday during a press conference on campus. "I could have enrolled at Miami. I chose baseball first, but I always expected -- and promised my mother -- I would one day enroll in the university and get my degree. That day has arrived."
Rodriguez said he plans on majoring in business and finance and hopes to graduate by age 35. He said, "Life begins after 40 years old," and he is preparing for that time. He has already taken classes at a community college in the Miami area. Rodriguez said he could begin classes -- likely correspondence classes -- as early as next spring.
"It's one of my greatest goals -- as important as being a Major League Baseball player," said Rodriguez, who hit .300 with 57 home runs and 142 RBI this season and is a leading contender for the AL MVP. "A degree is something that is a great personal challenge of mine. And just because I'm a Major League baseball player, I'm not going to let that get in the way of going to college and getting my degree."
Donna Shalala, the president of the University and the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton, said the donation spoke volumes for Rodriguez's character.
"Alex Rodriguez is a wonderful friend of the University of Miami. Through this generous contribution, the University will continue to enhance the campus environment and our top-ranked baseball program," Shalala said. "Alex also understands the strong connection between sound minds and bodies, something we strive for at the University. His scholarship for the Boys & Girls Clubs combined with his enrollment at UM shows he is committed to athletics and academics."
Rodriguez has played nine big league seasons, the first seven with the Mariners, whom he left as a free agent after the 2000 season. He has a career batting average of .309, has hit 298 homers and has driven in 872 runs.
"Alex has always, in our mind, been a member of the University of Miami baseball family," Hurricanes head baseball coach Jim Morris said. "Now we can say it officially, and we are thrilled that he has given us the means to begin renovating this great ballpark. Too bad he can't play shortstop for us."
"For us, there's not a more perfect individual to have your park named after. He's the hardest-working player I've ever been around, he's as classy as anybody I've ever been around, and he loves the program and wants to be involved. That's a perfect combination."
Rodriguez is following in the footsteps of other Major Leaguers who have donated money and time to their actual or adopted alma maters.
The stadium on the campus of San Diego State is named after Tony Gwynn, who played 19 years for the Padres after starring in baseball and basketball for the Aztecs. Gwynn will take over as coach of the baseball program this spring.
The San Diego State ballpark was built with a $4 million grant from Padres owner John Moores, with the proviso that it be named after Gwynn.
Rodriguez said he has a lifetime attachment to the Miami stadium where the Hurricanes won four national championships -- 1982, 1985, 1999, 2001.
"This was my Candlestick Park, my Yankee Stadium, my Dodger Stadium," he said. "The city of Miami did so much for me in my childhood that it makes me feel really great coming back and helping out."
Barry M. Bloom is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. Jesse Sanchez, a reporter for MLB.com, contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or any of its clubs.