Move over Tiger Woods, there's a new name dominating sports headlines across the country. It's Alex Rodriguez and he's arguably the best baseball player in the game today. But even if you're not a baseball fan, you need to know who this guy is. In an exclusive interview, “Today” host Matt Lauer spent some time with the man known to most as "A-Rod."
It's only the first week of spring training but everyone's talking baseball. The Yankee training camp in Tampa, Florida is a media circus.
A good looking, 28-year old superstar with the biggest contract in sports, a whooping $252 million, is now playing for the most dominant team in the game.
Matt Lauer: “There's a great quote from a baseball writer I think who said, “the Beatles just got Elvis.”
Alex Rodriguez: “For me it's like a homecoming. I was born in New York, Washington Heights. I look forward to obviously being the best baseball player I can be for the coolest team in the world.”
Alex Emmanuel Rodriguez was born in 1975.
He comes from a humble background. His mom had two jobs to help make ends meet.
Rodriguez: “She was a secretary in the morning and she was a waitress at night. And I can remember waiting for her at 11 o'clock in the morning and counting one, two -- her tip money. I knew that on Fridays and Saturdays when I reached $40 it was a great night.”
After a decade in the major leagues playing for Seattle and Texas, it looked like A-Rod would spend the 2004 season in Boston.
But about two weeks ago, Yankee boss George Steinbrenner tapped his sizeable bank account and came out with millions of dollars to put A-Rod in pinstripes.
Lauer: “Are you nervous working for a guy like George Steinbrenner?”
Rodriguez: “No, not at all. That's what I came to New York for. I want to win. I have the same passion the boss has. And with the type of money that he's paying, he should expect close to perfection.”
Lauer: “A lot of people look at this deal here and they talk about the money. They talk about your contract. But they say, ‘the New York Yankees dipped into George Steinbrenner’s substantial wallet and they bought the best player in the game and that shouldn't happen.’ Are we going to look back in 10 years at this deal and say, ‘that's the deal that was the beginning of the end for baseball?’
Rodriguez: “I don't think so. I mean Matt I think a stage like New York City with the greatest team and the greatest franchise in sports history, I think the better player you can put on that team, the better for the game. If Major League Baseball didn't have the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball wouldn't be half as popular.”
Lauer: “Do you think there should be a salary cap eventually in baseball?”
Lauer: “You think it should be a free market?”
Rodriguez: “Sure it's America. I'm living a dream and I’m very lucky.”
Rodriguez is a shortstop. But Yankee’s Captain Derek Jeter has played that position for 8 years. So A-Rod will move over to third base.
Many question whether the two are friends or rivals. Some unflattering remarks A-Rod made about Jeter in a magazine article 3 years ago still fuel the fire.
Rodriguez: “He's like a brother to me. I mean we've been out to lunch this week three or 4 times already. And I think they have to see us hold hands and go to a movie so they know that we've made up. When we're 50-years-old they're going to say, ‘well Alex and Derek are they arguing? Are they best friends? Are they brothers?’ We're just having fun with it now.”
A-Rod has the talent, the looks and the catchy nickname but the big endorsement deals haven't come his way yet.
Lauer: “You're coming to the media capitol of the world. In a year are we going to know what cologne you wear, what watch you wear, what car you drive?”
Rodriguez: “I hope not. I'm going to New York for one reason, to take care of business on the field between those white lines.”
Oh, and there is a Mrs. A-Rod.
Lauer: “What was the courtship like?”
Cynthia: “In the beginning it was kind of crazy. You know he traveled a lot and I was working, and I was also in school getting my graduate degree. And so… I would say a friendship that developed into a relationship.”
Lauer: “When you hear Cynthia, people talk all the time as of late and they say, ‘A-Rod he's so handsome, A-Rod, one of the best looking players in baseball.”
Cynthia: “You know what, I’m flattered by that. I mean he's my husband and if people find him attractive and sexy, great! I mean, you know, it's sexy! You know? (Laughs) it's flattering, it's flattering to me.”
Lauer: “I do have to say that your photo in Sports Illustrated in the swimsuit issue caught my attention. What did you think of it?”
Rodriguez: “I thought she looked amazing. Notice I was hiding behind her.”
With opening day just about a month away, A-Rod says he ready to take the field at the most famous sports facility in the world.”
Lauer: “You have entered one side of in my opinion the most intense sports rivalry that there is, between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. And you were almost a Red Sox. What do you think the reception is going to be like the first time you step into Fenway Park?”
Rodriguez: “Well I know there are no guarantees but now I’m guaranteed at getting booed in 3 places: Texas, Seattle and Boston.”
Lauer: “So the first time the crowd starts chanting, ‘YANKEES SUCK,’ you’ll know you're in the middle of it huh?”
Rodriguez: “Well, they got to be probably saying more specifically, ‘A-ROD SUCKS.’” (Laughs)
Lauer: “Let me give you guys a quiz if I can, okay? And if a fan comes up to you and says they're from this location, are they from Boston or New York? They live along the East River.
Rodriguez: “New York.”
Lauer: “Good! South Street Seaport?
Rodriguez: “Okay, that' easy, Boston.”
Lauer: “New York. If they live on the Charles River? Oh are you in trouble!”
Lauer: “Very good. What are you looking forward to most coming to New York?”
Rodriguez: “Being in front of the greatest fans in the world. It’s a dream come true. I just hope no one wakes me up.”