A-Rod teams up with Jay-Z for charity
Poker tournament brings together sports, music stars
NEW YORK -- For one night only, Alex Rodriguez helped transform Manhattan's 40/40 Club into the hottest poker club on earth.
That's because A-Rod teamed up with rapper Jay-Z to host a celebrity poker tournament on Wednesday, with the proceeds benefiting Rodriguez's A-Rod Family Foundation and Jay-Z's S. Carter Scholarship Foundation.
The event, which was expected to raise more than $250,000 for Rodriguez's charity, featured several high-profile celebs, from such sports stars as Dan Marino, Cal Ripken Jr. and Julius "Dr. J" Erving to personalities including Nelly, Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey.
"The response has been incredible, and the celebrity turnout has been great," A-Rod said. "For Jay-Z to team up with us, it's a dream team to raise money for a great cause."
Two of A-Rod's teammates, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, attended the event, as did former teammate Gary Sheffield.
"Guys are so busy, so I'm always hesitant about bothering people while they have their family time," Rodriguez said. "For Mariano, Jorge and the rest of the people to show up, it's incredible."
"I was getting ready to leave [New York] when Alex called me and asked me to come to his event," said Sheffield, who has been practicing his poker skills during the past week. "I asked him if I'd be playing with my money or his money."
A poker tournament seemed an odd choice for a charity event, seeing how A-Rod sparked some controversy last year when it was revealed that he had played at an underground poker club in New York.
"I got in some trouble for poker last year, so why not turn it around and raise some money for the children?" he said. "Poker is hot. People are excited, and it's a great way to raise a lot of money. I hope it does well."
For Rodriguez the event is the first for his foundation in New York. Last year he and his wife, Cynthia, launched the foundation with a fund-raiser in their hometown, Miami.
The A-Rod Family Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of distressed children, whether they're in need of psychological, physical or financial help. Rodriguez credits his involvement with the Boys and Girls Club in Miami with helping to mold him into the person he has become, and he believes that underprivileged kids should have the same opportunities that he did as a youngster.
"I've been the by-product of a lot of help," he said. "Some kids are making the wrong choices. They're turning to drugs, alcohol or suicide, alternatives that are not the answer. If we can give these children more choices, give them programs and counseling, that's what we really want."
Rodriguez said that his goal over the next five to 10 years is to open the Alex and Cynthia Rodriguez Health Care Center, which would lend support to children with a multitude of problems.
"There are a lot of depressed children out there, a lot of children who don't want to live and think there's no hope," he continued. "My life is the perfect example of an underdog who did good, so I want to help those kids out there."
Cynthia, who has a Master's degree in psychology, has taken a leadership role in the foundation. She plans to host a women's luncheon and fashion show in May to raise money, one of three or four annual events that she and Alex hope can become staples for years to come.
"We'd like to get to a point where we can raise significant funds to aid children in need," Cynthia said. "That can include anything from a child facing emotional issues to financial issues, or anything that falls in between when it comes to a distressed child."
Having already hosted events in Miami, Rodriguez decided to bring his cause to New York. He said that one of his greatest regrets during the first decade of his career was not doing more to benefit local communities when he played for the Mariners and Rangers, and he wasn't about to make the same mistake in New York.
"It was important for me to do something in New York, but it had to be the right thing," he said. "No matter what I do, it's not going to be enough. This game has given me so much. I'll be indebted for life for what it's been able to do for me on an emotional level, on a manhood level and on a financial level.
"It's my duty to help out, so there's no better place to do it than in the city where I was born and the city in which I play -- New York."
Cynthia echoed Alex's sentiments when it came to bringing their fund-raising efforts to their baseball hometown.
"There are so many children all over the United States and all over the world that need assistance, but you can only focus on so many causes at a time," she said. "Since we live in New York, Alex plays in New York and we're a part of this great city, it's very important for us to be able to contribute here as well."
Rodriguez admitted to being "nervous and apprehensive" about the event, but it seemed to go off without a hitch. Guests, who donated anywhere between $200 and $25,000 to attend, enjoyed an hourlong meet-and-greet before the poker tournament began. Several rooms were set up with poker tables, as celebrities and donors gathered for a night of fun, all for a good cause.
"The goal is to help as many children as we can," Rodriguez said. "As fast as we can."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.