One weekend in April 1994 I was home from college for the weekend with one of my college friends. My dad took us to opening day at John O’Donnell Stadium to see the Appleton Foxes play the Quad Cities River Bandits.
Everyone even then was aware of the hype surrounding Alex Rodriguez. He made his professional debut with the Foxes that day. We watched all his at bats. We got to see his first pro hit, which I believe was a simple ground ball that found a hole.
A-Rod ended up playing 65 games for the Foxes and put up a .984 OPS before moving up. Impressive for an 18 year old in the Midwest League. In Appleton A-Rod was teammates with Raul Ibanez, who was overshadowed despite being four years older than him.
The picture above is from this article, which is a flashback article from the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (formerly the Apppleton Foxes). Go read it, it’s an excellent article. Here is a part of it:
The Appleton Foxes are taking batting practice during a chilly, overcast afternoon at Goodland Field.
Alex Rodriguez is at shortstop when a sharply hit ball glances off the top of his glove and bounces into left field.
The error delights coaches Delwyn Young and Juan Eichelberger.
“Hey, Bootsie!” Young yells.
“We got him that time!” Eichelberger adds, standing on the mound.
Whatever complications he finds off the field, baseball is still just a game. A game he enjoys.
“I think I am still a kid and that’s what makes it fun for me,” Rodriguez said. “Baseball’s just coming out and having a good time for three hours and at the same time having a chance to entertain people.”
But the three hours open to public view are only part of the picture of Rodriguez’s life.
He just plain stands out.
The Seattle Mariners assigned the 18-year-old Rodriguez to the Class A Foxes in his first full pro season for several reasons, according to Jim Beattie, the Mariners’ director of player development.
One of the, Beattie said, is that “Appleton is a nice, cozy town. It’s easy to get around. We think he will find it comfortable there.”
In other words, quiet, slow, out of the limelight.
But trying to tuck the top pick in the 1993 June free-agent draft away – in Appleton or anywhere else – is like a circus keeping the elephant in a field down the road. Everybody still knows it’s there.
Basically, a media circus has been following A-Rod everywhere he went since he was about 17 years old. I can only speculate what impact that can have on someone’s personality. Some players handle it better than others. It’s a lot to ask of such a young person.
A number of things he did over the years were disappointing, the steroids being the worst. He brought a lot of the media scrutiny on himself. At least when it came to his professional life, the place he seemed most comfortable by far was on the field.