Like most of America's children, my dreams were shattered early. I'm not playing shortstop for the New York Yankees, nor am I quarterbacking in the Superbowl, nor did I hit the game winning three pointer to win March Madness.
To say I've let go of those dreams would be a lie. I still love sports as much as I did when I watched my first Rose Bowl or went to my first Knicks game. I'm more excited for my company softball game this week than I am for the bar on Friday (and we all know how much I love the bar). For those of us that have fallen short of our childhood fantasy, we live through vicariously as fans. We erupt when Michigan beats Ohio State. We crumble when the Yankees blow a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox in the ALCS.
As a young adult, the emotional roller coaster trailing our sports icons becomes less volatile. When I was twelve I was an encyclopedia of worthless sports knowledge compared to my self acclaimed B+ sports intellect today. Perhaps this is because we grow older and our lives become more complicated as our goals take shape (we also come to care about more important things... like women). My thoughts here are a little disorganized, but I want to create a sense of perspective about my night tonight and my night roughly eleven years ago. I want to compare the kid that would have played the game for free, to the young man that is not sure he could satisfy his thirst for life with a game.
Throughout my childhood, the Yankees were awful. My father as a child had the privilige of watching legends like Mantle and Berra grace the field of the House that Ruth built on a nearly perennial basis. My dad promised me that if the Yankees ever made the World Series that he would take me. As it turns out we had season tickets in 1996, but my father quit his job right about the time the Yankees made the World Series. He rescheduled a business trip (he was trying to start his own business) to take me to Game 1, but it was rained out. The Yankees lost game one, and they were demolished in Game 2. When my dad called in the middle of the Braves blowing out the Yankees in the middle of Game 4, I refused to speak to him (I was a bit of a spoiled child, I admit). Then, at 2AM in the pouring rain, Jimmy Leyritz hit a hanging slider off of Mark Wohlers to give the Yankees hope. My dad made it home in time for Game 6, and I can recall that moment like it was yesterday.
I remember Joe Girardi stretching out a triple. I remember the Yankee rookie rounding third to score the go-ahead run (the kid's name was Derek Jeter... I'm not sure you've heard of him). I remember Charlie Hayes catching the last out in foul territory. I remember my dad holding me up in my seat so I could watch Wade Boggs jump on the back of a mounted police horse and Cecil Fielder struggling to do a victory lap around the Stadium. I remember watching Joe Torre cry. I can still feel myself hugging my dad as the city of New York joined the 57,000 in attendance singing along to "New York, New York"...
Alex Rodriguez is one homerun shy of being the youngest player in history to hit 500 homeruns (more notably, he has done so without suspicion of steroid use). At the end of the year he will sign a contract that will pay him between $32 million and $38 million per year. In that moment with my dad, I would have lived in a cardboard box and begged for food to be one of the pinstriped heroes on that field, and he is going to get paid $30 million dollars.
A-Rod is a heroe to countless youths around the country and around the world. His influence in their lives is unparalleled. He has the power to convince a kid to stay in school. He has the voice to convince a kid to go to college. He has the opportunity to drive so many who will fall short of their dreams to create new ones. Alex Rodriguez is an active contributor and participant in the Boys and Girls Club. He's given more money to children's advocacy and educational groups than most of us will earn in a lifetime. Maybe he doesn't deserve that money for playing a kids game. But what is the value of his impact?
What is the value of a role model that does not use drugs, that does not cheat, that demonstrates class and integrity? What is the value of the college education for a kid that might have ended up pumping gas? What price can you put on keeping a kid in school that wouldn't have otherwise? And for those of us that were just kids, admiring their heroes, how much could you pay me to take away that one memory of a kid with his dad on a chilly October night when he was 11? $30 million doesn't even come close