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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Now here's a real class act

Imagine a multimillion dollar professional athlete, the best player in his sport, making arrangements to take a tour of Harvard when his team makes a road trip to Boston.

That's exactly what Alex Rodriguez did when the Texas Rangers were completing a series at Fenway Park in August 2002. It tells you something about the 2003 American League MVP -- the star shortstop who admits he'd like to play in a city where his team has a better chance of making the playoffs.

Sox fans are over the moon about the prospect of Boston making a deal for Rodriguez. The unfortunate reality is that any acquisition of A-Rod (who has seven years left on his 10-year, quarter-billion dollar deal) requires unloading Manny Ramirez's pact and that seems unlikely since the Sox couldn't give him away last month.

But sports fans are dreamers by nature. And the dream is that Rodriguez, his agent, and the two needy (different needs, but both needy) ball clubs will find a way to make it happen.

One thing is certain: A-Rod at Fenway would be a different breed of Red Sox superstar (without doing any research I am prepared to say with absolute certainty that Manny never asked for a tour of Harvard when he came through town with the Indians). Rodriguez is the kind of player who is comfortable with his star status, mingles easily with fans and media, and is eager to learn about his surroundings.

Which brings us to Harvard in August 2002.

Crimson assistant baseball coach Matt Hyde remembers getting a call from the Harvard SID office late in the summer. He was told that one of the Texas Rangers wanted a tour of Harvard and would like to meet him at the Harvard field at 12:30. Hyde asked for the name of the player and the unimpressed woman from the SID office told him it was some guy named Alex Rodriguez.

Hyde called incoming freshman Zak Farkes and told him to be at the field at 12:30. Farkes and his brother, Josh, got there and worked out, waiting for A-Rod, but it got to be 1 p.m. and there was no sign of the superstar shortstop. Hyde was thinking the whole thing was a hoax when he walked out of Dillon Fieldhouse and saw Farkes walking with Rodriguez. Rodriguez was with teammate Mike Young and both wore jackets and ties.

"He was a really class guy," remembered Farkes. "He took the time to talk to me. He asked me what my SAT scores were and about my grades. He talked about what it would have been like if he'd played in college. [A-Rod was already in the majors when he was 18.] He wanted to know about how players here were recruited without scholarships and how we competed with other colleges. I thought it was really impressive that he'd take advantage of the opportunity to see a different place."

Coach Hyde took it from there:

"I brought them up to our office, then took them out to our field. He asked where would be a good place to get lunch and I said we could go to Pinocchio's Pizza. He had a driver in a big SUV and he took us down JFK Street and dropped us off. Nobody recognized him in Pinocchio's. I went to pay the check and he said, `I got it.'

"After lunch, we walked to Harvard Yard. He was very inquisitive. He stopped a couple of students and asked them their major and if it was hard here. He really wanted to find out about Harvard. It was funny because there were massive groups of people on tours, walking around with cameras, but no one knew who he was. Nobody said a word to him. We went to the freshman dining hall, Memorial Chapel, and Widener Library. Then we got to the faculty club on the other side of the Yard and his driver was there and off they went. He was here about an hour and a half."

John Blake, the Rangers' vice president of communications, said, "He does stuff like that. He's pretty aware of everything. He's always aware of his surroundings. As far as being a guy in the superstar category, he's the best I've dealt with. He's usually by his locker before the games. There's no entourage. It's pretty seamless."

Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, not allowed to talk about other team's ballplayers, was impressed to hear of A-Rod's Harvard mission.

"That tells me he's intellectually curious," said Lucchino, a Princeton man.

What about it, Larry? Any chance of a Manny-for-A-Rod swap?

"You will not get me to stir that pot," said the CEO. "But I do think it's kind of nice that there's such keen interest in the hot stove league this year. I like that."

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