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Baseball's A-Rod stands for A-wesome
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Remember at the beginning of the season? It seemed that no matter where you turned to - television or radio - you could not possibly escape the constant barrage regarding the New York Yankees third baseman, Alex Rodgriguez. It seemed like everyone was out to get him, including his own peers.

My, how things have changed, and to think it's only April.

Love 'em or hate 'em (I loathe them), the Yankees have one of the best all-around baseball players in Rodriguez.

Entering today, the Yankees had a record of 8-8. But their record is deceiving considering what Rodriguez has done at the plate.

The 31-year-old man dubbed "A-Rod" has a Major League leading 12 home runs and 30 RBIs through 16 games. 16 games?! That's ridiculous. Almost equally impressive, two of his 12 homers have been game-winning shots, and one was a walk-off grand slam in a dramatic win against the Baltimore Orioles on April 7. Not to mention that he's batting .379.

Rodriguez is breaking records left and right, especially within the Yankees organization. In fact, no Yankee team in the history of the franchise had done what the Yankees did Thursday night (come back after trailing by four runs in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, only to win with a walk-off homer).

Check this out - since 1996, during his first full season in the big leagues - through 2006, Rodriguez leads the majors in home runs (471), runs scored (1,359), RBIs (1,356), total bases (3,869) and extra-base hits (861).

And barring injury, Rodriguez will join the elite 500-home run club this year.

How can one sit back and claim that this man is not one of the greatest players in the history of the game? We have the luxury and opportunity to watch him, and one day when we're older we can tell our kids and grandkids about one of the greatest Yankees players to don the pinstripes.

Now honestly, I'm not an A-Rod fan; I really could care less about the New York Yankees. I know it may seem like I have posters, shrines and other knickknacks of Rodriguez in my home, but I don't.

Truth is, I've been a Braves fan since I was knee-high to a duck, and there was nothing more heart-wrenching than watching them lose to the Yankees in the 1996 and 1999 World Series. Yes, I understand the tradition and history is rich in New York. And one of my all-time favorite players is Mickey Mantle, despite me not ever having the opportunity to watch him play, regardless of what his personal life was like off the diamond.

But watching Rodriguez celebrate as he rounded the bases upon hitting that game-winning grand slam, and then witnessing him launch another walk-off homer against the Cleveland Indians on Thursday night, I couldn't help but sit back and crack a smile.

That man is having fun - he's having fun in a city that entering the season absolutely hated him. Granted, not all 19 million New Yorkers shunned the highest paid athlete in sports history (10 year contract for $252 million), but A-Rod is playing with the emotion and passion that everybody should be playing the game with, despite all of his critics in the media.

The sad reality is that no matter how much damage A-Rod does this year with the stick, it will not be enough unless the Yankees get to the World Series and win it. The media will be all over him - like pine tar on a bat.

Those critics and the likes blame Rodriguez for why the Yankees have not won a World Series since acquiring the slugger in 2004. And yes, the numbers don't lie: a sub .200 batting average in each of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 postseasons have drawn much of this condemnation.

Of course, many fail to realize that perhaps the Yankees would not have even made it to the postseason during those years without Rodriguez, considering he averaged .299 at the plate with 40 homers, 119 RBIs and 116 runs scored during that stretch.

Since the acquisition, Rodriguez has been blamed for not being able to deliver the big hit in clutch situations, to which I say nonsense. If that were the case, how do you explain his .371 batting average with the bases loaded (.422 on-base percentage) during the 2003-05 regular seasons? Furthermore, his numbers vastly improved to .474 and .500 respectively during the 2006 campaign.

Peyton Manning got his chance and delivered for the Indianapolis Colts by winning a Super Bowl championship. Most of his critics are now silenced, since the majority claimed Manning was just another Marino - exceptional talent without a ring.

The same will happen with A-Rod - maybe not this year or next season, but one day Alex Rodriguez will have a World Series ring and all his naysayers will be left with nothing else to say about No. 13.