Chronic Bronx-itis

A Yankee Farmhand From Harlem Dreams of the Big Time

By the time he reached Norwich in 2001, Rodriguez had developed a fan base—some of his followers traveled many miles to watch him play—and a nickname, "J-Rod." His mother, who has created a shrine to her only child in her Harlem apartment, was now able to listen to his games via the Internet. Rodriguez performed well for the Navigators that first year, clobbering 21 home runs. "I thought it was good enough to get out of there," he says. But the Yankees kept him in Norwich for the 2002 season. He again played well despite the injury that kept him on the bench for a month and a half.

Sitting in the El Nuevo Caridad restaurant in Washington Heights after his Yankee Stadium workout, Rodriguez speaks of his career with grave seriousness, understanding that his performance this year is vital to his future. He likely could've made the major leagues much sooner with a club other than the Yankees, which is glutted with talented outfielders and favors signing pricey free agents (see Godzilla, et al.). But Rodriguez isn't one to complain. He says he has to prove himself on the field and leave everything else to the will of God. Throughout the interview, he looks at his watch, eager to head to the gym for his next training session. Before long, he excuses himself with a polite smile, off to prepare once again for the coming season.

Presbott watches as the ballplayer he discovered on a rundown field in the South Bronx skips out the door. "Nobody works harder than him," he says. "Nobody."

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