Alex Rodriguez, who played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball for teams including the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees, is said to be one of MLB’s greatest players of all time. But what people remember most about his appearance for Dallas’ St. Philip’s School and Community Center is what a prince of a fellow he was. “A-Rod came to the patron party at Ashlee and Chris Kleinert‘s house last night,” one observer recalled during the Friday, March 1st Destiny Award Luncheon at St. Philip’s, where A-Rod was the featured attraction. “And he was here at the school early today for a tour. He was very nice and laid-back.”
The 19th annual Destiny luncheon, a fundraiser for the private Christian school in South Dallas, attracted a crowd of more than 750 people to the school’s Snyder Activity Center, which was packed to the rafters. Many of the attendees were household names around these parts: Tom Dunning, Jan Miller and Jeff Rich, Moll and Charles Anderson, Jennifer and John Eagle, Stedman Graham (Oprah’s main squeeze), Lisa Cooley, and Cinda and Tom Hicks among them. As the guests prepared to enjoy their lunch of a green salad, stuffed chicken breast or pan-seared salmon and three mini desserts, they were welcomed by Luncheon Co-Chairs Ann and Lee Hobson. Ashlee and Chris served as the luncheon’s honorary co-chairs.
Soon enough, it was time for the “award” part of the event. As presided over by John Eagle, the Mona & David Munson Humanitarian Award was presented posthumously to Father Stephen B. Swann, founder and former headmaster of The Episcopal School of Dallas. His family accepted the award for Swann, who was honored for his many contributions to Dallas’ faith and educational communities, including St. Philip’s.
After a call for contributions — Hicks and others had agreed to match up to $75,000, it was announced — Tom himself introduced A-Rod, who would be interviewed on stage by Dale Petroskey. (Dale, president and CEO of the Dallas Regional Chamber and former president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, seems to be just about everywhere these days.) Tom, a former owner of the Texas Rangers, said wryly of A-Rod, “I made him famous back in 2001, when he signed the largest contract in the history of baseball” at the time.
During the wide-ranging, free-wheeling conversation between Dale and A-Rod that followed, the baseball legend shared these insights:
- He’d just attended the Academy Awards in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, and regretted his decision to wear a white tuxedo to the event. “About 25 people asked me for a martini, and then hors d’ouevres,” A-Rod said, smiling. “Bradley Cooper said, ‘I’m nervous. A-Rod, go get me a Sex On The Beach.’ I said, ‘Bradley, you know, I was a pretty good baseball player.'”
- A-Rod was raised by a single mother who held down two jobs, and he learned the value of hard work from her. As soon as he signed a contract with the Seattle Mariners, he bought her a house and a “small, used” Mercedes-Benz and told her, “‘Mom, I don’t want you to ever work again.'”
- “You’re an average of the five people most connected to you,” A-Rod told the audience. “It’s the people around you that make a champion. … The ability to have that human connection is what’s important. [For example,] Dr. Terry Flowers [the St. Philip’s headmaster] has made me believe that [St. Philip’s] is one of the greatest places in the world.”
- While only three players in the history of big-league baseball have hit more home runs than A-Rod— Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds—he pointed out jokingly that he is also “the fifth all-time in the history” of strikeouts. “I have a Ph.D in failure,” he said. “But I also have a masters in getting back up.”
- A-Rod acknowledged using steroids during his time with the Rangers—an admission that, once it was disclosed many years later, led to his suspension for the entire 2014 season. “You make mistakes. But we don’t have to be defined by our mistakes,” he said. “I needed to take a timeout and reset and ask myself, ‘Why do I continue to make mistakes?’ I realized it was my fault, not anyone else’s. When I took full accountability for my mistakes, I started to feel liberated.”
- Asked by Dale where his strong character comes from, A-Rod replied, “A lot of hard work and therapy.” He travels the world telling audiences, including children, about his shortcomings, and counsels, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did.” If he doesn’t make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he went on, “there’s no one to blame but me. But I also have a chance to be a Hall of Fame parent and father. To me that’s important, too.”
- Saying that St. Philip’s has a “special magic,” A-Rod asked, “How can we get a St. Philip’s in Miami? In the Bronx? That’s what I’m going to investigate when I leave here today. I’ve been so inspired, I’m making a pledge to fund an Alex Rodriguez Scholarship at St. Philip’s for the next five years.”
More than one person in the big crowd must have been inspired, too. After the event was over, it was announced that the Destiny Award Luncheon had raised a big pile of money for the school.
* Photo credit: Kristina Bowman