Via Andrew Marchand -
The apprehensive 13-year-old approached Keith Hernandez. Like any other kid meeting his idol, a “super nervous” feeling rushed though his body. Finally, with his courage up, the youngster addressed the player he had spent so many nights watching on TV.
“You are my favorite player,” Alex Rodriguez recalled saying. “I hope to be drafted one day.”
The funny thing about that chance meeting in 1988 is that Hernandez remembers it, too. Hernandez, the former MVP, was rehabbing a hamstring injury at Florida International University when this kid — who had yet to hit any of his 640 homers — walked up to him.
What sticks out most in Hernandez’s mind was not Rodriguez’s “imposing physique,” but his intensity.
“He was very intent to listen,” said Hernandez, now an analyst on the Mets’ network, SNY. “He asked questions.”
Rodriguez has shown some chameleon tendencies during his career, claiming this place or that place was always his dream spot. But, in reality, on the eve of the latest Subway Series, Rodriguez knows it wasn’t Texas, despite the money, or the Yankees, despite the history, that tugged at his heart.
It was the Mets.
Growing up in Miami in the ’80s, there were three main outlets for Rodriguez to watch baseball. There was WGN for the Cubs, WTBS for the Braves and WOR for the Mets.
He didn’t have much affection for anyone at Wrigley. He loved Dale Murphy during the years that preceded the Braves’ glorious run in the ’90s. But A-Rod’s favorite team was the Mets, cemented by the fact that they added Hernandez in 1983.
“Him and [Gary] Carter were the finishing two pieces of furniture to create the perfect house,” Rodriguez said. “And they got the championship in ’86.”
Fourteen years later, the Mets would return to their next World Series. By that time, A-Rod, just 25, had already nailed 241 homers — 79 more than Hernandez had in his entire 17-year career.
Rodriguez, on the verge of hitting the market as possibly the most celebrated free agent in baseball history, famously showed up at Shea Stadium for the Subway Series, hoping he would emulate his idol and one day lead the Mets to a World Series title.
Rodriguez wanted to be a Met so bad that one person close to him still insists he would have taken less than the $252 million the Texas Rangers ended up forking over.
Instead, in the first of A-Rod’s many public relations disasters, a back-and-forth between his then-agent, Scott Boras, and the Mets resulted in the Mets failing to even bid on A-Rod. All he got from his favorite team was the “24-plus-one” tag pinned on him like a scarlet letter by then-GM Steve Phillips.
I knew about the crush that A-Rod had on Mex. The first time A-Rod wore white spikes in an All-Star game, he said that he did it because Hernandez did it as well.
I wonder how things would have played out different, for the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox and A-Rod, had Rodriguez signed with the Mets instead of the Rangers. That would have been very interesting.