An inside look at how the baseball player turned into a businessman – The Athletic

An inside look at how the baseball player turned into a businessman – The Athletic

He walked into the ballpark, down the stadium stairs, dressed for the occasion in a crisp, new, gray pinstripe suit with a vest and tie that he picked out when he first got to town for the Father’s Day weekend series. He found his seat just above the visiting team’s dugout, unfolded the royal blue plastic with his hands and sat down.

Victor Rodriguez was a man of few words. But his future daughter-in-law was sitting by his side, her hand cradled in his, and the shine in his eyes said everything that Victor could not. He had never been there to see his son play, much to his shame. But he was here now. The emotion from all that missed time rushing in.

“The way he held my hand with such appreciation,” said Cynthia Scurtis, who arranged this monumental visit, “you could feel the love and appreciation pouring out of him.”

Rickey Henderson started the game with a single. As Mike Cameron strode to the batter’s box, the moment Victor had been waiting for was upon him. Stepping out of the dugout, and into the on-deck circle, was the Seattle Mariners’ 24-year-old shortstop. Alex Rodriguez was in the middle of his fifth full big league season back in 2000, a few weeks away from his fourth All-Star appearance and well on his way to his third consecutive season of 40-plus home runs.

There he was, standing on deck. Victor’s son. The one he abandoned at 9 years old, along with Victor’s wife, Lourdes, and two other children. He was not there while Alex developed into one of the nation’s top high school athletes and worked his way to becoming the No. 1 pick in the 1993 MLB draft. Wasn’t there to watch him rocket through the minor leagues and didn’t make it to his professional debut in 1994, or to any of the games when he became an everyday player and one of baseball’s brightest stars in 1996. What mattered now, though, was that after 16 years of estrangement he was here, watching his son play in the big leagues for the first time.

Down in the on-deck circle, Alex tried to remain focused on facing left-hander Mark Redman. The ballpark had always been his sanctuary. The blue sky over his head, the fresh air in his lungs, the crunch of the dirt under his spikes — they provided comfort while those little red stitches on the baseball gave him something tangible on which to concentrate. When he stepped on that diamond he was too great to be ignored, to be left behind by anyone.

But this wasn’t just any ballpark. This was the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, home to the Minnesota Twins before shuttering in 2009, and covered by a dingy, white Teflon roof that kept the elements out, but all the smells and sounds and tension inside. In here, there was nowhere for the pain and the angst to go. It just hovered in the air.

You could see people’s faces pretty good,” Alex Rodriguez said. “I certainly saw him. I was very, very nervous and I didn’t want to look up.”

Twenty-one years later, Minnesota figures prominently in Rodriguez’s life again.

When the The Athletic first broke the news in April that Rodriguez and friend Marc Lore had reached agreement to become the eventual successors to Glen Taylor as owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx,, there was a collective reaction that permeated through the Twin Cities.

Huh?

What would Alex Rodriguez, the three-time MLB MVP who had dated J-Lo, lives in Miami and is one of the most recognizable and polarizing people in professional sports, want to do with an unsuccessful basketball team in Minnesota? And yeah, it could be cool to have a former star athlete take over for Taylor, a small-town owner who presided over one of the least successful franchises in pro sports, but did it have to be A-Rod? Public Enemy No. 1 on a Yankees team that tormented the Twins in the playoffs year after year, and a guy who sullied his career by getting a performance-enhancing drug suspension?

What did A-Rod want with the Timberwolves?

Part of it was opportunity. There are a finite amount of sports franchises, and they rarely become available because they appreciate in value so significantly over time. Rodriguez has spoken about the Twin Cities’ corporate base and the belief that there is room to grow for a team that has largely struggled over the last 30 years. But he also has said he always had an affinity for Minnesota from his playing days, which made this more than a simple business transaction. There was just something about the place that made him feel comfortable, and it wasn’t just the success he had against the Twins.

Sitting in the back of his mind with every trip here was that weekend series against the Twins more than two decades ago, the first and only time his father ever watched him play in person. Victor has since died, amplifying the significance of that occasion, of that stadium, of Minneapolis. Buying the Timberwolves, in addition to the grand business opportunity and status flex, is in some small way Alex owning a piece of that connection with Victor. In that sense, Rodriguez being here strikes at the core of the human experience: a son and the approval of his father.

“He wanted his dad to be proud of him,” said Scurtis, who was married to Alex from 2002 to ’08 and was the driving force behind that reunion. “I think he wanted to give it the best he had to offer. He wanted to really show him what he could do on the field. I think that it was like coming full circle, the same thing you would do in a Little League game when your dad’s in the stands.”

In some ways it drove him to the heights he reached as a player, and it also is a motivator as he tries to reinvent himself in retirement.

“Every time I think of Minnesota, I think of that moment,” Alex Rodriguez said. “It was maybe the most important four days of my life from an emotional point of view to close a loop that had been open and had been a big wound on me that I worked through a lot in therapy over the years.”


On July 27, 1975, Victor and Lourdes Rodriguez welcomed Alexander Emmanuel into a family that also included a son, Joe, and daughter, Susy, from Lourdes’ previous marriage. The Rodriguezes lived in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan when Alex was born, and eventually relocated to their native Dominican Republic.

Victor had played in the Dominican professional league in his younger days, and it was in this baseball-obsessed country that Alex was introduced to the game.

“To these kids in the Dominican Republic, baseball is everything,” Scurtis said. “The only way they’re going to make it in life is through baseball. That is what they’re taught.”

They moved back to the United States in 1979 and settled in Miami, but Victor grew restless there. When Alex was in fourth grade, Victor left the family to move back to New York. Baseball helped fill the void for Alex.

“I always thought that he would go and come back,” Alex said. “I was wrong. You learn to survive. Thankfully for me I had a strong mother and two siblings, my brother and sister both older, that played assistant parents.”

Lourdes worked two jobs to provide for the family and Alex spent the bulk of his time at the Boys & Girls Club, where he did his school work and honed his baseball, football and basketball skills. He never heard from his father through high school, but did receive a call from him on the day he was drafted by Seattle in 1993. Alex said he wasn’t ready to repair the relationship at that point, and there was an occasional foray here and there over the next several years that never came to fruition.

By the time 2000 came around, the Mariners were emerging as a threat in the American League, and Alex Rodriguez was at the center of it all. He had spent the previous 15 years focused solely on becoming a star and he had arrived in a major way. With his baseball legs underneath him and Alex’s career firmly established, Cynthia started to nudge him toward a reunion with his father.

“I felt there was an emotional need for him to just see who his father was, good or bad,” Scurtis said. “To at least have that opportunity to make a connection with him again.”

Somewhat to her surprise, Alex said he was ready.

“I also knew it was important, but I didn’t have the courage to take that on in my early days of my career because I thought it may be disruptive to what I was trying to accomplish,” he said.

Alex and Cynthia talked about finding the right place for it to happen. Alex didn’t want it to be at home in Seattle, where so many familiar faces would be around. They didn’t want one of the big markets, like New York, where the media spotlight would be brighter.

Rodriguez had always been fond of playing in Minnesota. He liked hitting in the Metrodome and loved the friendly vibe in the city in the summer. It was small enough that they could avoid a big media presence, but large enough that they could enjoy a great meal and a walk around the city before games.

With the location picked, they looked at the schedule and found the series with the Twins on Father’s Day weekend. Cynthia tracked down Victor through one of Alex’s cousins, and plans were put into motion.

Alex and Cynthia stayed in a hotel away from the team for privacy. They found a place downtown with two separate rooms on opposite sides with a suite in between them, emblematic of Alex’s cautiousness.

“I wanted to build guard rails so if things didn’t go well, I could still focus on my game and the series,” he said. “That year we went to the postseason, so every game was very important.”

An inside look at how the baseball player turned into a businessman – The Athletic


(Bruce Kluckhohn / Getty Images)

The Twins had not yet come out of a long malaise, so the crowds were light the whole way through, an ideal situation for such a heavy moment. The announced attendance for Game 1 of the series was 9,145, so it was easy for Alex to spot Cynthia and his father sitting just above the dugout.

“I can’t describe how honored I was to be there,” Victor told The New York Post in 2004.

For someone who had spent so much of his life with a singular focus on baseball, Alex now found his mind occupied by more than what the pitcher was going to throw on a 2-1 count.

“I was feeling excited, sad and a little angry,” Alex said. “I wanted to play really, really well because I wanted to show off and tell him this is what you missed out on for all these years, from 10 to 24.”

The Mariners took three of four from the Twins that weekend, and Rodriguez went 8 for 17 (.529) with two home runs, a double and six RBIs. He homered in the first game and the finale, fitting bookends to an emotional weekend.

As quiet as Victor was, Alex could feel him in the ballpark all weekend long, a sort of sensory overload after so many years apart.

“His presence was so overwhelming.” Alex said. “For 24 years he hasn’t been to four games and now he’s at four games in four days. It was a lot mentally and emotionally.”

Cynthia was struck by the closeness of the resemblance despite the physical and emotional distance that was between them for so long. They both were meticulous dressers, both preferred to observe the scene rather than dominate the conversation.

“He walked in and it was like fast forward many years and it was like watching Alex walk into the stadium,” she said. “There was no mistaking that was his father.”

Despite the resentment that lingered for Alex, the two fell into an easy interaction. They ate dinner together, Cynthia said, as if the two had shared meals every night for the previous 10 years. They laughed and shared stories. Alex called Victor “Papi” and tried to connect as best he could after so much time apart.

“It was the first time that I had seen a man in Alex’s presence that, to me, it was very clear what the pecking order was. His father was the dominant male at the table,” Cynthia said. “Alex took a second seat to him. I had never really seen that before and I just thought, Wow, what a different story this could’ve been if they had met sooner.”

When Alex and Victor left Minneapolis after that series, Cynthia maintained some contact over the years, but Alex said that those four days were about all his heart could handle at that point. The father and son did have sporadic interactions after that, but nothing substantial, he said.

“I remember when the series was over and he went home and I moved on to the next city that I had found closure in my heart,” Alex said. “That was an important milestone for me to get over.”

“I felt that they both had missed out on a great opportunity,” Scurtis said. “Alex missed out on having a father and his father missed out on having a son. I was just like, Wow, what a shame.”

On so many levels. At the most basic and formative, Cynthia could see the hole that his father’s absence had created in Alex, who was still on the rise in 2000, a wildly popular figure in Seattle and the player many figured would carry Major League Baseball into the new millennium.

He played another 13 seasons after that one, signed what was at the time the richest contract in pro sports history, a $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers, won three MVPs, a World Series with the Yankees and made 11 more trips to the All-Star game.

He also admitted to using steroids at one point of his career, was suspended for an entire season because of his role in the Biogenesis scandal and feuded with the Yankees to the point that he morphed from baseball’s golden boy into a player whom so many loved to hate.

While he was serving the longest suspension ever issued by Major League Baseball, in 2014, Rodriguez said he looked inward and re-evaluated who he was and how he interacted with people. He emerged from that time away determined to atone for his mistakes and reinvent himself, with the Timberwolves ownership another big step in that ongoing process.

“For the most part, the people that don’t know me well, they’re going to mainly lean in on my tough days because that’s really what got a lot of the headlines, and I don’t blame them,” Rodriguez said. “It’s really up to me to show them who I am today. But I do think that those who are close to me have seen a different person, someone who has gratitude, who has learned from their mistakes, someone who really values relationships and reputation.”


Dan Katz knows exactly why Rodriguez is viewed as a villain in segments of the sporting fan base. Also known as “Barstool Big Cat,” Katz has built the “Pardon My Take” podcast he co-hosts with “PFT Commenter” Eric Sollenberger into one of the most popular shows in the country by tapping into the everyday fan mentality.

He remembers seeing a social media post from Rodriguez after he retired from baseball and had started A-Rod Corp, a real estate and investment company, and Katz’s immediate reaction was to start penning a tongue-in-cheek cover letter to apply for an internship.

“He was signing baseballs at 1 a.m. and his computer was unplugged and I was like this is a company I want to to work for,” Katz said, his words drenched in sarcasm. “It started as a joke, 100 percent I was trolling.”

Katz appointed himself as A-Rod Corp’s intern, referring to his new “job” on his podcast as a lark. Eventually, mutual contacts connected Rodriguez and Katz, and they started a podcast of their own called The Corp, interviewing Kobe Bryant, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, designer Steve Madden and others about their pathways to success. When Katz first met Rodriguez, he expected to see another self-absorbed former athlete who knew it all. What he found was someone much different.

“He’s someone who has been humbled and someone who has failed very publicly and come back from that,” Katz said. “He has so many experiences that he can draw from that make him an interesting guy.”

Humble? Alex Rodriguez? This is a guy who was photographed in Details magazine kissing a mirror. He would parade around Central Park with his shirt off and was even rumored to have a painting of himself as a centaur hanging in his home (Rodriguez has insisted this is not true).

But those who know him well say Rodriguez is a much different person in retirement than he was in the clubhouse. They refer to it as A-Rod vs. Alex. A-Rod was the baseball player who struggled with authenticity and turned people off with a contrived demeanor meant to portray a serious athlete, but ended up coming off as disingenuous. Alex is the businessman, the one who takes copious notes when he meets with mentors, dotes on his teenage daughters and laughs when someone like Katz gives him a hard time.

“When I think of other major, major athletes, there’s very few that would allow that to happen, for an outsider to come in their world and take the piss out of it sometimes,” Katz said. “He’s a fascinating guy. He has failed a lot and succeeded a lot. It’s interesting seeing all those ups and downs and peaks and valleys.”

Lore first got to know Rodriguez when he was looking for a partner to buy the New York Mets. They quickly bonded over shared philosophies on running a business, but also connected on a deeper level. Lore’s father didn’t abandon the family like Victor did to Alex, but he wasn’t home much and Lore said he was always yearning for more.

“When you don’t get the love that you so desperately crave from your dad, there’s this part of you that drives you because you think, well if I do more, if I’m better, then my dad will take note,” Lore said. “There’s sort of this chasing love thing that drives you. He has that. I have it. I can relate to it. It drives you in a way that others can’t compete with.”

Rodriguez and Scurtis have rebuilt the bridge after their divorce, both heavily involved in raising their daughters, Natasha and Ella. Scurtis sees a more introspective, genuine and emotionally available person now that the pressures and scrutiny that came with playing in pinstripes are no longer there.

“I think when it came to his craft, he knew how to do that,” Scurtis said. “But when it came to everything else, there were a lot of gaps that needed to be addressed. And he didn’t have the time or the energy to address them because he just needed to play.

“Now I think once he retired is really when he started to dig into all of that. It’s made a huge difference.”

Rodriguez said he sought therapy after he “lost my way.” The money, the fame, the status was all intoxicating, and he said he tried to portray an image of a “robotic” competitor that wasn’t really him. When baseball was taken away from him in 2014, he had reached a crossroads.

“At that point, I had two choices, I could fold the tents and go away or I can take full accountability, serve the suspension and from that day forward start doing things in the most honorable way I could and learn from your mistakes,” he said.

An inside look at how the baseball player turned into a businessman – The Athletic


(Courtesy David Sherman and the Timberwolves)

 


David Ortiz let out a hearty laugh when he was told that Rodriguez buying into the Timberwolves with Lore wasn’t exactly met with open arms from Twins fans when it was initially announced.

Ortiz has known Rodriguez for decades. They came up in the Seattle organization a few years apart, are close friends but were also fierce rivals when A-Rod was with the Yankees and Ortiz starred for the Red Sox.

“Good-looking guy, big guy, power hitter, everyone wanted a piece of him,” Ortiz said. “He faced a lot of hate put toward him. He had to put up with a lot of crap. In my case, I just had to hit. He had to put up with a lot of shit. It’s a lot, man. It’s a lot.”

Once a fan’s mind is made up, it can be tough to turn it around. Ortiz spent six years with the Twins at the start of his career, so he knows why some people in the Twin Cities are wary of Rodriguez getting involved with their team.

“A-Rod is a guy that people probably judge him because of all the mistakes that have happened in the past,” Ortiz said. “So what, man? We ain’t perfect. We make mistakes. We’re human beings and no one is perfect in this world. If I want to judge you for what you did wrong, I gotta judge you for the good things that you also have.”

Marc Lasry does not go back with Rodriguez as far as Ortiz does and never has been locked in a playoff series against him. But the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks has been in the boardroom with Rodriguez as an investor in Rodriguez’s real estate development business. The partnership has led to long discussions between the two about life and work.

“He’s like a kid,” Lasry said. “He’s always curious. He’s always trying to figure things out. He’s always trying to learn. You’re always surprised at just how nice he is. I think that catches a lot of people off guard, because that’s not your first impression.”

Rodriguez has spent years trying to change that first impression, putting himself in the public eye with his baseball announcer role, recurring appearances on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and an active presence on social media to try to show the changes he has made. His high-profile relationship with Jennifer Lopez — they started dating in 2017, made a joint bid to buy the Mets in 2020 and announced that their engagement was off earlier this year — introduced him to a new demographic of fans as well.

“Pre-suspension, I looked at winning as big contracts and home runs, RBIs and conquering,” Rodriguez said. “Post my suspension, I really focused more on being a good father, a good friend, mentoring others and more in that vein versus win at all costs.”

He has spoken to Lasry at length about starting as an NBA owner. The plan is for Rodriguez and Lore to gradually amass more equity in the Timberwolves with a plan to take control at the end of 2023. When Lasry, who lives in New York, purchased the Bucks with Wesley Edens in 2014, the partners were met with palpable skepticism about their desires to keep the team in Milwaukee. Eventually they built an arena to solidify the team’s future in Wisconsin, retained star Giannis Antetokounmpo with a super max contract extension before last season and then won the NBA championship, the team’s first title since 1971.

“I think in the Midwest people will give you the benefit of the doubt if they believe that you’re actually trying,” Lasry said. “For us in Milwaukee, we spent a lot of time in the community and were able to accomplish a trust factor there. I told Alex he’s got to spend a lot of time in the community, he’s got to spend a lot of time with the team and hire people that he thinks are really good.”


Rodriguez and Lore have been prominent voices and presences in the franchise since joining Taylor’s ownership group. They have been clear in their messaging that they want to stay in Minnesota for the long haul, and the Timberwolves lease with Target Center that runs through 2035 adds some legal weight to their words. They have started to get involved with charitable organizations to connect to the city and are rolling up their sleeves and meeting regularly with personnel on the business and basketball sides to determine what needs to be changed, while attending games at home and on the road.

The league, in fact, has already come down on them for being too involved. The Timberwolves were fined $250,000 for funding a team workout in Miami prior to training camp. Rodriguez hosted the team at his home as part of the trip, something that team sources said was pushed by former president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, who assured everyone that the Wolves were acting within league parameters. A painful lesson, but a lesson nonetheless.

Rodriguez and Lore were also directly involved in the decision to fire Rosas a week before training camp and are in the process of setting a new framework of core values that they plan to use as guideposts for creating the environment they want to oversee.

“The fact that we lost that (Mets) bid was best thing that could’ve happened to us,” Lore said. “I really think this feels so right. The sport feels right, the city, the state, everything feels great.”

The accountability that Rodriguez took for his past mistakes resonated with Glen Taylor when he was first meeting with him to discuss joining the ownership group. Rodriguez made no excuses, including the fact that his father abandoned him, for why he lost his way during his playing days.

“I’m not looking for people to give me a break,” he said. “The last thing I am is a victim.”

Rodriguez and Lore have sat courtside at Target Center several times this season. Rodriguez has been greeted enthusiastically every time he has been on the big screen from a fan base desperate to see a winner after watching just one playoff series since 2004. He is no longer running from the mistakes he made, he is owning them.

“I think the interesting thing about A-Rod with that is he’s tried it multiple ways,” Katz said. “He tried the way that was not great, where he was lying. He tried the way where he was pushing back on the idea that he’s had some issues. I think that he’s come out the other end being like, the best way to deal with this is to be open about it.”

Ultimately, two things will endear him to Minnesota fans: if he plays a role in turning a long-suffering team into a contender and if he makes good on his early pledge to keep the Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx in Minnesota. He can talk until he is blue in the face, but the actions are what will make an impact.

“Alex’s outcome is better than it has ever been because he has matured, he has his feet on the ground,” Ortiz said. “He’s got beautiful kids. He’s teaching them how to be good human beings. Everybody around him, he just wants that person to be a better person. That’s the A-Rod that I know. That’s the A-Rod that I focus on. And people should do exactly the same thing.”

And if fans still aren’t buying it, Ortiz said they should consider the source.

“All they need to think about is that this is the enemy talking,” Ortiz said, laughing. “I’m a Red Sox. This is the enemy talking.”

More than two decades after that fateful series at the Metrodome, the feeling of being under the watchful eye of his father for the first time in his adult life hangs with Alex Rodriguez. It’s the kind of feeling that can tie a person to a place. The kind of thing that makes owning the Timberwolves and Lynx so much more than a business transaction.

He can’t change every mind. He can’t win every heart. But he can start with two and go from there.

“I remember when my father left, I surely kind of went down on one knee and had a prayer,” he said. “That prayer was something along the lines of ‘Dear God, if you ever give me the privilege of being a father, I won’t let you down and I will be a committed, present father for my girls. I’ll never leave their side.’ So far, so good.”

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photo: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images.)

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