How about an Alex Rodriguez story that doesn't involve steroids or snitching or slander? Or BioGenesis or Brian Cashman or even just boatloads of cash? How about a story on a guy named Alex Rodriguez who has won championships as both a player and a coach? A story on an A-Rod who succeeds by studying greatness, rather than taking a PED shortcut to get there?
For that story, we have to shift our gaze from the pinstripes of Yankee Stadium to a pool in Southern California. There, on the deck of an aquatics center 2,500 miles from New York City, the name Alex Rodriguez and the nickname A-Rod are universally viewed as positive.
"The first time I ever heard of the baseball player Alex Rodriguez was when I was in high school," Alex Rodriguez says. "We are basically the same age. I had a friend who was good enough to play some pro baseball and when he came back, he told me he met this guy named A-Rod who was really good. Then my freshman year in college he started blowing up. That's when the A-Rod thing started."
The Rodriguez in this story attended Pepperdine University and played water polo. He was an All-American as a junior and helped lead the Wave to a national championship in 1997 as a senior.
"I used to hate the nickname A-Rod, but now that’s what most of the team calls me," he says, referring to his athletes at Pomona-Pitzer, where Rodriguez is both the men's and women's water polo head coach. "When I travel, I get a different perspective on it. I'll do conferences in Connecticut and the guy really isn't liked. I remember going to a bar in New York and giving a waitress my ID and she just looked at me and said, 'I'm a Derek Jeter fan'."
And then, as expected, people have to bring up the giant contract ... or lack thereof by the aquatic version of A-Rod.
"People always come up to me and say, 'oooh, I bet you wish you had his money'," he says. "I'm Cuban and I love baseball. I wish I could have played it at that level. I'm a Dodgers fan, though."
While the Yankees' A-Rod might have the Sagehens' A-Rod beat in the wallet (to be fair, he has almost everyone beat there), the water polo coach tops the baseball player in championships by a mile. Coach Alex Rodriguez has won a combined nine Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles (five with the women's team and four with the men). Unlike the ballplayer, the coach is building his legacy not by using syringes, but by watching other great coaches and learning from them.
"Water polo is a lot more like basketball than baseball," Rodriguez says. "I'm primarily a Lakers fan. I've read a lot of Phil Jackson's books and Pat Riley's books. I used to be just a big homer for the Lakers, but now I root for solid coaches. I like the Patriots because they're well coached and they execute. I used to be a big Pete Carroll fan. When I was growing up, USC wasn't strong, then Carroll came in and changed the whole city around. All their key sports have now stepped up."
As for his own coaching strategy, Rodriguez says that he tries to bring the best out of everyone. He says his athletes would definitely call him a player's coach, and as he's gotten older, he's transitioned from being a brother-type figure on the team to being a father figure.
"With water polo, you're not on the field with your athletes or even on a sideline," he says. "You're standing on a deck. I teach my players that if you earn my respect, I'll give it right back. I'm young enough where I can still get in the water with them to get a feel for their abilities."
As the aqua A-Rod enters this upcoming season gunning for his tenth title, he laughs and gives a quick reminder that he has as much claim to the name on his birth certificate as does the guy embroiled in all the controversy on the East Coast.
"I don't look at it like it's his name and I'm borrowing it," he says. "It's my name too."
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