Rodriguez trails idol's path Seattle shortstop could be an MVP like Ripken

August 21, 1996|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

It was only about 10 years ago that Seattle Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez was a Little League shortstop. And like many Little Leaguers at that position, he idolized Cal Ripken.

A Miami resident, Rodriguez used to go to spring training to watch Ripken. He even had a Ripken poster hanging in his bedroom.

Rodriguez, whose .361 batting average leads the majors, is now one of Ripken's peers, but the 21-year-old's admiration of the Orioles shortstop hasn't waned.

"He was an idol when I was like 10 years old," Rodriguez said before last night's game. "Now in the last couple of years, he's someone that I respect more and more for what he does on the field."

One of Rodriguez's biggest thrills was getting the opportunity to spend some time with Ripken at the All-Star Game last month.

"We talked about how we go about different plays and that was nice because we both have big-framed bodies," said Rodriguez, who is 6 feet 3 and 195 pounds. "He's been very cordial to me. I don't even know if he's aware that I've looked up to him, but a lot of young shortstops have, so I'm just one of many."

But few shortstops, regardless of age, have had a year like Rodriguez is having.

The No. 1 pick in the 1993 draft, Rodriguez has 29 home runs and 97 RBIs. In addition to his league-leading average, he also is first in total bases (292) and grand slams (three) and is second in doubles (41) and runs (110).

If he wins the batting title, he would be the first American League shortstop to do so since Cleveland's Lou Boudreau in 1944. And with his next home run, Rodriguez will join Ripken as one of five shortstops in history to hit 30 or more in a season.

But despite his staggering success, Rodriguez shies away from comparisons with Ripken.

"It's hard for me to compare myself to him because he's a legend," Rodriguez said. "I'm just a young guy trying to establish myself as a big-league player."

Rodriguez may be establishing himself as the AL Most Valuable Player, an award Ripken won in 1983 and 1991.

Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo, who spent the previous three seasons as a coach with the Mariners, said Rodriguez would get his vote for MVP.

"If Seattle gets [into the postseason], I don't see how they could have done it without him," Perlozzo said. "I thought defensively he would come around pretty quickly, [but] I'm surprised he's come as quickly as he has [offensively]. His numbers are phenomenal."

Along with his phenomenal numbers has come increased attention from the media.

On a team with players such as Ken Griffey, Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez, Rodriguez has become the Mariners' most sought-after player. He even appeared on an episode of "The Late Show with David Letterman" that was broadcast Monday, spending much of the segment praising -- who else? -- Ripken.

"It's not like it's coming out of nowhere. It's been building," Rodriguez said of the media attention, which includes being on Sports Illustrated's cover last month. "It's still not as much attention as I got my senior year [at Westminster Christian High School in Miami] when I was the No. 1 pick."

Griffey, who knows a little about the pressures of being a young superstar, has tried to pass along some helpful hints.

"I try to help him more off the field than on," said Griffey. "I told him to just make sure he has time for himself. I told him, 'You're here to learn and have some fun. Don't worry about anything.' "

Last season, however, was somewhat worrisome for Rodriguez, who was recalled on four separate occasions from Tacoma, the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate.

He hit .360 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs in 54 games at Tacoma, but just .232 in 142 at-bats with Seattle.

"I think I did a good job last year for the amount of times I was sent up and down," Rodriguez said.

Said Perlozzo: "We put him up here in a hurry. He had a lot of pressure on him and he had to learn to relax. I think finally he realized he belongs. And boy, does he."

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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