PLANT CITY, Fla. (BVM) — Some people are born to be stars and are just destined for greatness. With a name like Alex Rodriguez, a young boy from Central Florida is bound to grow up to be a baseball star. And that’s exactly what happened.
After deciding at the age of 4, when his parents just couldn’t detach him from a baseball and a bat, Rodriguez set out to be a baseball player. He did so for the Plant City Little League All Stars, the Hillsborough County All Star Team, the Rawlings Florida Team which played in Cooperstown, N.Y. and took 18th place out of 104 teams. Rodriguez played catcher, first base and shortstop, slammed hit after hit and home run after home run.
College recruiters took note. Coaches groomed and prodded him from the age of 10. All star teams came calling. College scholarships seemed inevitable. But then Uncle Sam entered the picture and Rodriguez, whose revered grandfather had proudly served for years in the United States Air Force, decided to put it all aside to enlist as an airman in the Air Force.
Rodriguez was born into a Florida family, the only son and youngest of three, in the small town of Plant City, just outside of Tampa Bay. Strawberry country. His mother was a school teacher and he shared the family home outnumbered by his mom and two older sisters.
Just approaching kindergarten, Rodriguez’s parents signed him up for T-ball. As he got a little older, T-ball gave way to machine-pitch little league. After his parents went through a divorce, Rodriguez used baseball as his escape. Instead of just heading to the plate to make a hit, he swung for the fences, and the ball frequently soared above them.
He loved playing defense. Catcher, first base, shortstop — he was just happy to be on the field. His coaches loved Rodriguez because he was quiet, polite, clean cut, articulate and well-spoken. Taught by his grandfather to always open the door for girls and to give up his seat to ladies in a crowded room, Rodriguez was the total package. A star player, model student, kind, well-liked and with no sign of an ego. A team player. A coach’s dream. A true gentleman.
Because he had talent, but mostly because he was coachable and trainable, he excelled at his sport. He studied his craft and his greatest competitor became himself. Baseball stars are made one pitch, one stolen base and one tagged runner at a time. And Rodriguez was considered a star. He played on school teams, municipal leagues, all stars and traveling teams.
But there comes a moment in life when one has to truly step back, assess the situation and search one’s soul. Service had always been important to Rodriguez. His grandfather, who he leaned on as a father figure after his parents’ divorce, preached to him about kindness, chivalry and service. And it obviously stuck. Toward the end of his high school career, to the consternation of his coaches, college recruiters and talent scouts alike, Rodriguez made a life-changing decision to lay down his beloved glove, the balls and the bats, in exchange for a blue uniform in which “off he’ll go into the wild blue yonder” to serve his country.
Anyone closely paying attention at Plant City High School could have clearly detected the signs. As seniors, students are assigned a parking space and can paint within that space what’s important to them. Hand-painted by Rodriguez himself for the 2019-2020 school year was the No. 31 — the number on his baseball jersey for years — alongside the logo of the U.S. Air Force.
But for Rodriguez, the decision was easy.
“I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a great man and I wanted to pattern my life after his. I may be a bit old fashioned, but I believe every man has a duty to serve for at least four years. Every man I know who served is a great man, and so it was an easy decision for me.”
And that decision was a clear home run for Uncle Sam.