Many of the national and local media representatives waiting on the baseball diamond for Friday night’s preseason banquet for the 2009 University of Miami baseball team left disappointed.
In his first public appearance since admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-2003, 12-time all-star and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez received a standing ovation and briefly alluded to the issue in an event that went off without a hitch. He thanked his mentors and family.
“I want to welcome my friends in the back,” Rodriguez said, referring to the press. “We travel together just like a family, a dysfunctional family. As you all know, it’s been a very quiet week for me, so it’s really nice to get out on a Friday night.”
The “Dinner on the Diamond” was supposed to be just the unveiling of the new stadium, now known as Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park, which underwent $3.9 million-worth of renovations finally completed.
Instead of hearing more about this year’s expectations, over 50 tables full of guests, the baseball team and anxious reporters alike awaited A-Rod’s arrival as the main attraction and a possible elaboration on the scandal.
A visibly nervous Rodriguez, after signing autographs for children in attendance, explained to the crowd how he had always wanted to play for UM and would have done so had he not signed with the Seattle Mariners out of high school.
“Growing up in Miami, Mark Light Stadium was our Yankee Stadium. It truly was a place where every kid wanted to land here,” he said. “We didn’t have the [Florida] Marlins, so Ron Fraser and the Hurricanes were the best show in town.”
Head coach Jim Morris, Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt and guest speaker Laz Gutierrez, a former Hurricane and Boston Red Sox scout, each gave speeches and spoke kind words of the slugger.
“I had to follow the most influential coach in the history of college baseball,” Morris said. “This might be tougher tonight following the best baseball player in the major leagues. Nothing at the University of Miami is easy.”
The 31-year coaching veteran provided anecdotes about Rodriguez speaking with the team and expectations for the upcoming season: Omaha.
“We’re very excited about our team and we’ve been working really hard. We have a lot of young guys along with a few returning players,” he said. “A lot of the other guys, you don’t know their names, but you will. Our expectations are always the same and I learned that my first day at Miami.”
Many attendees were bombarded afterward by questions from the press.
“I bought the ticket way before the press about him came out. I think it went well. The university and the team are bigger than one individual, and that’s what he’s been saying,” said Coral Gables resident and UM baseball fan Jim Berlin. “I don’t want it dug up anymore. It just doesn’t matter.”
Olivia Bevilacqua, a Barry University graduate and avid Canes fan, said that she thought the banquet was “beautiful and a nice place to be.”
“[Rodriguez] got a very nice reception. It won’t be that way when he’s out there playing ball, but for this purpose I thought the people were very cordial and it was really, really neat what they did,” she said. “I think he dealt with it in a very professional manner and he didn’t dwell on it. That wasn’t the purpose of tonight.”
Before closing the ceremony, Gutierrez reminded this year’s team that in 1998 when the program was expected to win a national championship with 12 MLB draft picks, it was the following season that Miami actually won its third title.
“On those days when you don’t feel like giving 100 percent, play for the name on the front of the jersey, and not the one on the back,” he said. “Remember the community that backs you and the kids that look up to you.”