It's one of the nicest college baseball stadiums in the country.
And now it has a problem: its name.
Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park is where the Miami Hurricanes play baseball. There's a huge plaque greeting fans and bearing the name of the Yankees slugger, who has now received one of the most severe punishments in the history of the sport.
Already one town has opted to strip Rodriguez's name off of a youth baseball field. Will Miami do the same? Or will the university keep it? And if so, how will it justify doing so?
Rodriguez, who was recruited to Miami (for baseball and football) but never played there, donated $3.9 million to renovate the stadium. Those are 3.9 million reasons to keep everything the way it is. But now the stadium is an unavoidable reminder of what Rodriguez has done to tarnish the sport he loves. He's not welcome in Major League Baseball – 211 games, pending arbitration – and yet he's welcoming fans to college baseball.
This decision has already been made once. Miami feted him only days after he confessed to taking performance enhancing drugs as a member of the Texas Rangers. Rodriguez got a 45-second standing ovation when he appeared at the dedication ceremony in Coral Gables in 2009. It was the first time he spoke publicly since his admission.
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"I have been so fortunate to have received so much from a game I love so much," Rodriguez said back then. "That doesn't mean I haven't made mistakes, and unless you've been in a cave under the ocean this last week, you know that I've made some."
There were a few complaints at the time about naming the stadium after a confessed drug cheat, but those were met by defenders who said Rodriguez took some responsibility for his past actions.
"What's different about Alex Rodriguez is he came out and admitted that he did something wrong and took personal responsibility for his actions," then student body president Brandon Gross told the Associated Press in 2009. "So I think the university is still as proud as when he made the announcement [of the donation] in 2003 to have his name up here."
Four years later, there's evidence of more drug use and less responsibility taken. In fact, there's evidence of obstruction, which is hardly the kind of behavior befitting anyone representing a university in any way. A lot of athletes take PEDs. But not a lot of athletes are banned for a season plus for conduct unbecoming.
It's not just a Rodriguez story, either. Ryan Braun played at Miami. Jimmy Goins, a strength and conditioning coach for the team, is named in Biogenesis documents as receiving banned substances. And the clinic itself is walking distance from the stadium.
Now the stadium is a reminder of Biogenesis, not a reminder of the young man who loved Miami baseball so much that he tried to sneak his way into games. Rodriguez would have played at the U, but he took the money instead. Now, in a way, Miami is beholden to that money.
Reached by phone last week, University spokeswoman Annette Gallagher said she was aware of the intense coverage of Rodriguez lately, but would have no comment at this time.
Adding to the irony is that there's a more suitable name for the field: Ron Fraser. It was Fraser who cobbled the program from the ground up, saved it from extinction, and won two national titles there. Fraser is not only one of the greatest figures in college baseball, he's one of the greatest builders in college sports history. He passed away earlier this year.
Mark Light, by the way, is the name of the son of Miami fan George Light, who donated money to build the stadium. Mark died of muscular dystrophy. A venue dedicated to athletic excellence is a perfect tribute to Mark Light, and most Miami fans know the stadium more as "The Light" than by the full name, even though few outside South Florida know who George Light is.
There is an argument to be made on Rodriguez's behalf. He did donate the money, and quite a lot of it. He did act to make the program better, by making its facilities better. That action was indisputably generous, and indisputably beneficial to student-athletes. The University of Michigan has several buildings named for shopping mall entrepreneur Alfred Taubman, and he served time in prison for price fixing. Breaking the law is far worse than breaking the rules of baseball.
And yet look at all the good things Lance Armstrong has done. Look at how generous he's been. The soccer stadium named after his foundation in Kansas City was still renamed. In fact, Livestrong itself cut ties with the disgraced cyclist. Just like Armstrong in the world of cycling, Rodriguez's career, no matter how vibrant it was at one time, will almost certainly end in disgrace.
The message Rodriguez's gift sends is one of encouragement and support. The message his name gives out now is mixed at best.
Miami has to ask itself: Which message is it sending?
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It's easy to cluck and say the name should be removed, or that Miami shouldn't have taken the money in the first place. But consider the situation: Miami is a relatively small, private institution. It doesn't have the fat-wallet boosters of a Florida or Florida State. Donors like Rodriguez don't come around every day, and in fact they don't come around at all. College baseball programs like Miami must do everything to compete at the highest level. Do they live with the consequences of Rodriguez's cheating? Or live with the consequences of taking the high road?
That, appropriately enough, is the very decision Rodriguez had to make.
More suspension coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Jeff Passan: Bud Selig's overzealous handling of A-Rod is more about legacy preservation
• Desperate Yankees need Alex Rodriguez
• A-Rod booed before first at-bat in Chicago
• MLB's Biogenesis investigation leads to 13 more suspensions
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