Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Spare the ‘Rod

Not too long ago my mother visited with me here in Brooklyn for a few weeks. Incredibly, despite how close we are, we had not seen each other in over two years, since I went home for Christmas 2003. Needless to say, I was looking forward to hangin’ and spending quality time with the Moms. The succulent home-cooked meals were just an added plus.

One of Mother’s pet peeves has been the dearth of quality programming emanating from the Spanish-language TV networks here in the States. I mean, really, a near constant barrage of telenovelas –-soap operas-- with a few entertainment/gossip/game shows interspersed does not constitute programming in my book. Or hers. Which is why after a few days of frustration she gave up on the Univisions and Telemundos, and found herself on the couch watching Yankee games with her eldest son.

Now, this isn’t much of a stretch: Mom’s a baseball fan. Back in the Dominican she’s a lifelong fan of her hometown team, Santiago’s Aguilas Cibaeñas. In fact, a second cousin of hers, Miguel Diloné, is an Aguilas Hall of Famer, and former team manager. (Interestingly, in the Dominican winter league, the Aguilas ballclub are the Red Sox to Santo Domingo’s Tigres del Licey’s Yankees. Guess who I root for?) And before the rampant crime wave that currently grips the Dominican in a unyielding vise made it a dicey proposition to partake of outdoor sporting events, she was also known to be regularly at the game rooting for her team. So, Mom and I watching the Yankees on TV is no big deal, right? But what really surprised me was how much of a supporter she’s become of none other than the recently besieged Alex Rodriguez.

For those of you that may not know or care, A-Rod–-as he’s popularly known--is the Yankees’ third baseman, the reigning American League MVP and the highest-paid player in U.S. sports history (to the tune of 25 million dollars per season). He’s also in the midst of a crippling slump that has made him the recipient of constant booing at Yankee Stadium and the focus of endless speculation–-and even a bit of distinctly biased ribbing--by the sports media.

My mother has taken up the man’s cause to the point of calling in sports shows in the Dominican to defend him and criticize them for their unfair--and in her opinion, decidedly envious--portrayal of him. As a matter of fact, she still hasn’t gotten over the harassment that Rodriguez was subjected to by the Dominican sports media a while back, after he answered a question regarding his nationality and heritage in a manner not to their liking. (For the record, he stated his nationality as of the United States and his heritage, of course, as Dominican. In the Dominican, the sports mafia were incensed that the NY-born, Miami-bred, of Dominican parents A-Rod had given such an answer. ‘He was supposed to give the same answer to both. The nerve!’ Losers…) Our Mother’s fondness for A-Rod is such that my brother and I have taken to refer to him jokingly as “our little brother”.

But why A-Rod? There are plenty of other guys in baseball that could use the prayers, good will, and support. Why has Mom focused on championing this ballplayer in a way I have rarely, if ever, seen her embrace a stranger before? I watched the whole thing with mirthful bemusement until it finally hit me.

My numbers could be slightly off, but I would estimate that 99% of the Dominican players in Major League Baseball were born on the island. Like my brother and I, A-Rod was born in Manhattan’s predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights. His were working class parents that came to this country looking for a piece of the American Dream. And guess what? He doesn’t need to wear that stupid "I Am the American Dream" t-shirt making the rounds these days because he clearly is the American Dream. But like most immigrant success stories there’s the leaving of the homeland behind; the being mostly-raised by a single mother; the money-tight living; and the supportive extended family that many of us born of immigrants have had and that almost all of us can relate to. This is what draws Mom to Mr. Rodriguez: not so much who he is but, more importantly, the circumstances, sacrifices and ultimately, perseverance of his family that led him to be who he is. In other words, that could’ve been me, my brother, or one of my many cousins. Now, I get it.

So, even though I haven’t been happy with his recent performance on the field–-not to the point of booing him, though. What kind of bullshit is that?--I’m gonna join Mom in rooting for no. 13 a little harder than before. After all, as Mom’s little lesson has taught me, no matter what uniform A-Rod wears, he’ll always be one of ours.

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