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Big Numbers, Not Big Talk : Alex Rodriguez Is Modest, but Scouts Are Singing His Praises

April 05, 1993|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The connection is fine, but you have a hard time believing it's actually Alex Rodriguez, high school baseball phenom, possible No. 1 pick in the June draft, on the other end of the phone line from Miami.

"I have a girlfriend, I go to movies, I go to parties just like any high school senior," Rodriguez, Miami Westminster Christian School's slick-fielding, hard-hitting shortstop is saying. "I'm just a regular high school kid who gets a little more attention."

Sure, and Clint Eastwood is just a regular actor who won a little award last week.

You call a two-page spread in the March 22 issue of Sports Illustrated, interviews with ESPN and all the local television stations, stories in major newspapers, 63 pro baseball scouts at your first game of the season, agents calling you every day, fans asking for your autograph when you get off the bus for a road game, a high school road game, a little more attention?

That could be the understatement of the year.

But for Rodriguez, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder one scout has dubbed "the next Cal Ripken," it's about the only sane way to approach this whirlwind of a spring.

Be modest.

Keep a level head.

Stay focused.

"Our objective is to concentrate on this season and let everything else take its course, but outside factors make it impossible for him to have a normal year," said Coach Rich Hofman, whose Westminster Christian team will play Bellefonte (Pa.) High at 11 a.m. today in the first round of the Upper Deck Tournament at El Dorado High.

"He may be one of the highest profile high school players in a long time. But there's a big danger in not focusing on what he has to do, because, ultimately, that's going to get him where he wants to go."

Destination: University of Miami? Seattle Mariners? Los Angeles Dodgers?

Who knows?

Rodriguez signed with the Hurricanes--Cal State Fullerton was his first choice, but he said he chose Miami because his mother wanted him to stay closer to home--but his letter of intent might be moot when pro baseball starts flashing money at him.

A top-five pick, as Rodriguez is projected to be, can expect a signing bonus of $400,000 or more, and if Rodriguez is the No. 1 pick, as some believe he will be, that figure could rise to the $1-million range.

It's too soon for Rodriguez to be concerned with that now, but he has conferred with Brien Taylor, the No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft, Phil Nevin, the former Fullerton standout who was the No. 1 pick in 1992, and current Fullerton outfielder Dante Powell, who turned down a $425,000 signing package to play for the Titans, about the subject.

"They said the most important thing is to get treated fairly, don't get impressed by a certain amount of money, and don't sell yourself short," Rodriguez said. "I'd love to go to college--honestly, I would. But it will depend on where I'm picked, what my market value is and what the team's plans are for me."

In the meantime, Rodriguez, who was also one of Florida's top high school quarterbacks last fall, is trying to concentrate on this season, a challenge that seems to grow with every newspaper article or television feature.

He had a .606 average with seven homers, 21 runs batted in and 12 stolen bases in his first 10 games but has slipped a bit in recent weeks. He's batting .500 with seven homers, 24 RBIs, five doubles, three triples, 31 runs and 16 stolen bases entering the Upper Deck Tournament, which features some of the nation's top high school teams.

Westminster Christian, a private, non-denominational school with about 100 boys in grades 10-12, was 33-2 last season and was named national champion by USA Today. The school was ranked first in that publication's 1993 preseason poll and is 15-2.

"It's tough because every pitcher is having a career at-bat against Alex," Hofman said. "There was a big article in the St. Petersburg paper that said, 'Superman is coming to town.' We played a game there, and every time a strike was called on Alex, it was like the Fourth of July. He's under a microscope, but is doing a good job."

Rodriguez has noticed players treating him differently, especially since the Sports Illustrated piece came out.

"When I get off the bus, the whole team looks at me, and when a guy gets a strike on me, he pumps his fist, even though it's only one strike," Rodriguez said. "You can see the intensity in their eyes. One guy threw 90 m.p.h. against me and was clocked at 87 on the other two batters the same inning. It's kind of fun."

So are some of the perks that come with being one of the nation's top high school players. Rodriguez met Ripken, the Baltimore Oriole shortstop, a few weeks ago, and last week, at the request of Manager Tommy Lasorda, he spent a day with the Dodgers in Vero Beach.

"It was the best day of my life," said Rodriguez, a native of the Dominican Republic whose family moved to Miami when he was in the fourth grade. "Tommy's a great guy, and he treated me well. Any time you get to meet Daryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, it's a heck of a day."

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