A-Rod goes to bat for UM

University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris remembers standing next to Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez several years ago during a practice at Mark Light Stadium and telling Rodriguez to close his eyes.

"I told him to imagine that he was playing in a game and to look up at the scoreboard. Just visualize that the stadium was named Alex Rodriguez Park," said Morris.

It's a done deal.

Thanks to a $3.9 million donation by Rodriguez, Mark Light Stadium, which has been home to the Hurricanes baseball team since February of 1973, will undergo renovations that will include an increase in total capacity, improvements to the press box and the addition of several sky boxes. Upon the completion of the construction project, the stadium will be renamed Alex Rodriguez Park.

Although details were not fully given on the stadium renovations, it is expected that the capacity for baseball games will jump from the current 5,000 to over 10,000. The stadium's press box will also be reconstructed with the help of another donation.

A target date for the completion of the construction was not announced during Thursday's press conference at Mark Light Stadium. But in an interview last month Miami athletic director Paul Dee acknowledged that changes to the stadium were forthcoming and that he would like to have them in place by 2004 or 2005.

"I'm flattered and honored," said Rodriguez, 27 "We didn't have Major League Baseball here when I was growing up. I used to ride the bus – with a couple of other friends- and sneak into Mark Light Stadium."

"For me this was my Dodger Stadium, my Yankee Stadium and my Candlestick Park. I would spend the entire weekend here watching the Hurricanes and when Sunday came around I was crushed because I had to wait another week for more baseball. This was home for me."

Before coming baseball's highest paid player and a seven-time All-Star, Rodriguez, who grew up 15 minutes from Coral Gables, would jump over the left field fence at Mark Light Stadium to watch the Hurricanes practice and get tips from then-UM coach Ron Fraser.

Rodriguez became a fixture at practices and games at the university and by the time he was a senior at Westminster Christian was being heavily recruited by the Hurricanes. In 1993, Rodriguez signed a baseball scholarship to attend the University of Miami, but chose to sign with the Seattle Mariners after being selected No. 1 overall in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. He signed with the Mariners for $1.35.

Rodriguez, who said he has already taken several courses at Miami-Dade South, intends to pursue a college degree during baseball's off-seasons and hopes to have it completed before he turns 35. He kissed the university's readmission letter handed to him by school president Donna Shalala.

"I made a decision to play baseball and take care of my mother," said Rodriguez. "But I've always promised her that one day I would enroll here and get my degree. I'm not about to break that promise."

Rodriguez's donation, the largest ever made to the baseball program, will also be used to fund an annual scholarship for a member of the Boys & Girls Club of America. Rodriguez spent time as a youngster at the Hank Kline Boys & Girls Club in Miami.

"This will help us have one of the best facilities in the country," said Morris.

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