BY JO PIAZZA
photographs by rony shram | May 17, 2010 | People
Jacket, Ralph Lauren Black Label (price on request). 867 Madison Ave., 212-434-8000. Aviator sunglasses, Ray-Ban ($150). Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000
|Custom blazer, Gucci ($1,195). 725 Fifth Ave., 212-826-2600. Button down shirt, Brioni ($600). 55 E. 52nd St., 646-624-5600. Printed tie, Hugo by Hugo Boss ($95). Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000. Jeans, Guess ($138). 537 Broadway, 212-226-9545|
Alex Rodriguez ordered a black bean salad with balsamic dressing at a bistro in Soho. By Soho, we mean South Howard Avenue in Tampa, where the Yankees retreat for spring training—a place as culturally removed from “south of Houston” as you can get. While Rodriguez, in his cashmere V-neck and designer aviator sunglasses (carefully removed once we are safely ensconced at a table by the window), is exceedingly polite and welcomed warmly by the staff, he looks every bit the displaced New Yorker. (Former Mayor Ed Koch said that, if after six months in NYC, “you find you walk faster, talk faster and think faster, you’re a New Yorker.”)
It’s taken much longer for the Yankees’ venerable third baseman to earn that title, but after enduring years of public scrutiny and tabloid headlines, Rodriguez’s clinch role in securing the team its 27th World Championship finally goaded Gothamites into welcoming him into a careful embrace.
“I do feel like a New Yorker, even more in the past four months,” Rodriguez says. “People in New York are so honest. But I think they understand everything I’ve been through.”
When describing his adopted city (Rodriguez was born in the Dominican enclave of Washington Heights but his family moved to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic when he was four), he uses the L-word a lot, but not in a high-school-crush kind of way. More like a happily married guy who knows the ups and downs of a complicated relationship.
“I’ve been here seven years and I feel like I’ve only gotten to know 30 or 40 percent of the city,” Rodriguez says. “I love the people. I love the museums. I love the Met. I love the art in New York.”
That’s something you may not have known about the ball player. He’s an aficionado of art—and style. And for a guy who never made it to college, he has a lot of respect for people who are educated. “I don’t think envy is the right word but I always thought about all my friends who did go to college and came back with all these amazing stories, and here I was thinking I got the short end of it because I had to go to the minor leagues. But I think it all turned out for the best.”
That said, if he didn’t have a natural talent for hitting balls with a piece of wood, it’s easy to imagine Rodriguez as a businessman. He has the ear of the third richest man in the world, Warren Buffett, who helped him negotiate his contract with the Yankees in 2007, and Rodriguez recently opened Alex Rodriguez Energy Fitness Center in Mexico City. He also owns a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Texas. If the baseball thing doesn’t work out, we wonder, would he use his charm to wheel and deal out on the lot? “Salesman, no. I wouldn’t be a very good car salesman,” he says with a laugh. “For the last 20 years, I’ve lived in a gym five or six days a week and I plan to do that for the rest of my life. Opening the gym was a natural thing for me. It’s something I believe in and it’s real. I like to participate in things that I know about, rather than [those] I know nothing about.”
The gym project dovetails nicely with his recent charitable efforts to promote nutrition and fitness for kids. “It’s part of my current and post-career goals to go around the US and abroad and spread the word about health and fitness. Nutrition and balanced diets start at a young age.”
He does hope to be the owner of a baseball team eventually, but in the meantime he can’t wrap his head around any existence other than spending his days on a baseball diamond in the Bronx. “I’ve never thought of another dream job. This is my dream job,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’m in love with the new stadium. It’s the greatest place in the world to go to work every day.”
But no dream is perfect. With the perks of fame come intense scrutiny from the media and fans coupled with an enormous pressure to perform. Rodriguez admitted last year that the burden to live up to expectations led to him taking banned substances from 2001 to 2003, during his tenure with the Texas Rangers.
That February 2009 confession followed a grueling 18-month-long tabloid maelstrom, where he was linked romantically to Madonna and accused of infidelity in divorce papers filed by his wife of six years, Cynthia. But unlike some professional athletes who have lambasted the media for reporting their indiscretions, Rodriguez realizes that with all of the positive things he has been given, he has to expect some negative. “You can’t take the good and run away from the bad, but I think the good far outweighs the bad,” he says. “I’m so proud to represent the City of New York—and that goes for on and off the field…. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Rather than excusing away his position as a role model, he accepts that it comes with the territory. “I think we are role models. I mean it’s a responsibility that we have. When I was nine or 10 years old, I looked up to Cal Ripken Jr., Dwight Gooden and Keith Hernandez. Those guys didn’t ask to be role models. They just were.”
In addition to those greats, Rodriguez admires an array of diverse and successful men. He ticks off names like Jay-Z, Joe DiMaggio (he shrugs off comparisons between himself and the Yankee great, who also had a thing for blondes), Frank Sinatra, Jackie Robinson, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat as the “fantasy team” he would invite to dinner at his Upper West Side apartment. Of course he’d order in: “I’m probably the worst cook in all of New York City, no exaggeration,” he says.
Others Rodriguez holds in high esteem belong to the new breed of Renaissance men, like designer-turneddirector Tom Ford. After noting he couldn’t wait to check out Ford’s foray into film, he thoughtfully recommended we check out Valentino: The Last Emperor, the documentary about the legendary fashion icon. “Oh, my God, I loved it,” he says, which, of course, begs the question: Who got him to watch it? Could it have been ex-girlfriend Kate Hudson?
When her name comes up, Rodriguez is careful to note that he is not dating or looking for love at the moment. His focus this summer, he says, will be on baseball and his daughters. After an acrimonious split, he and his ex-wife have finally nailed down how to share custody of their girls, Natasha, 5, and Ella, 2. And during the summer months, Cynthia brings the two to New York, so his free time means visits to FAO Schwarz and the sea lion tank at the Central Park Zoo, which Natasha simply can’t get enough of.
So when we ask him about his perfect date he makes sure to say—again—that he is so busy with work right now that he doesn’t have time for a relationship. But when prompted he admits, “If I had to say, my perfect New York date would be at a really quiet place with good food and a beautiful setting,” he says rather shyly. Then, like a true New Yorker, he reiterates that he isn’t looking for anything as frivolous as the fawning affection of yet another blonde. He wants more of what made this city fi nally embrace him in the fi rst place: another World Series win. “We’re right in the middle of spring training and getting ready for another championship season,” Rodriguez says with a careful grin, “and my focus is on that.”
Styling by Cannon at Judy Casey
Grooming by Cherie Combs at Ford