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 MIAMI (AP) - Alex Rodriguez grew up in Miami, still makes his offseason home in South Florida, even is a member of the University of Miami's board of trustees.
He is a beloved native son.
And Friday night, for the first time since he was a senior at Westminster Christian High in 1993, he finally got to play in his hometown.
With 150 of his friends and family in the crowd - a ``world record'' player ticket buy, he said - Rodriguez and his New York Yankees visited the Florida Marlins on Friday in their next-to-last exhibition game of the spring. Dozens of fans swarmed the Yankees' dugout in A-Rod's No. 13 jerseys, most imploring him in Spanish to sign something for them.
``Coming up here and being a part of South Florida high school sports, potentially going to play football and baseball at the University of Miami, it's nice to come full circle,'' said Rodriguez, the reigning AL MVP after hitting .314 with 54 home runs and 156 RBIs last season. ``I never really thought I would get this opportunity, being in the American League.''
With interleague play, chances like these are hardly uncommon.
But Rodriguez has always missed out on Miami trips - until now.
``This is Alex's home,'' said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who, like Rodriguez, lives in South Florida during the winter. ``I went and saw a Heat game this year, I was driving back, and there was a big billboard that said, 'Congratulations Alex on the MVP.' This town has really embraced Alex and Alex has really embraced this town.''
Rodriguez was the fourth Yankee to bat Friday night, and got a huge roar when the starting lineups were announced - incidentally, dwarfing the ovation any Marlins player got before the game.
``It's been a long time since Westminster Christian,'' said Rodriguez, who had been to a Marlins postseason game as a fan, but never played on the field that Florida calls home. ``Just makes me very proud to come back to a community that's done so much for me.''
There was a sense during the offseason that Rodriguez, if he left the Yankees, might want to sign with the Marlins. After all, they needed a big-name draw, and he'd surely have helped in the team's almost-neverending quest to both lure fans and get a baseball-only stadium.
It was never going to happen, Rodriguez said, and he repeated ``never'' four times for emphasis.
``Never thought about it,'' said Rodriguez, who ended up staying with the Yankees after signing a record $275 million, 10-year deal. ``You heard it, but my mind was truly focused on staying in New York. Miami's a place that I plan to be for hopefully the rest of my life. It's a great home. I don't know if trying to mix the two would work.''
But he carries a piece of South Florida wherever he and the Yankees play.
Rodriguez wore No. 3 in Seattle and Texas. Babe Ruth's number isn't available for Yankees these days, even for someone like A-Rod. So when he came to New York, he switched to No. 13 - Dan Marino's number.
The longtime Miami Dolphins fan used to come to Dolphin Stadium to see Marino play.
On Friday, people came to see A-Rod, and even though it was just an exhibition, he was thrilled.
``Finally, I'm here,'' Rodriguez said. ``It's cool.''
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