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BALTIMORE -- Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez made one thing very clear in an exclusive interview with MLB.com before the Yanks' contest against the Orioles at Camden Yards on Wednesday.
"I don't consider myself a celebrity," he said.
Approximately 2.5 million All-Star votes from fans around the country may say otherwise.
Celebrity or not, Rodriguez spent time in front of cameras thanking fans for their support and discussing the spectrum of topics that cross fans' minds on a daily basis.
Rodriguez currently leads all Major Leaguers in All-Star voting and is poised to make his 11th All-Star appearance in July. He's never finished first in the balloting and said, despite the Midsummer Classic's reputation as a secondary topic in players' minds, he holds the voting and the game itself in high esteem.
"Especially because I get criticized so much from so many angles, it's refreshing and very humbling for me to be the No. 1 vote-getter in all of Major League Baseball," he said. "It's always been one of my goals, because as a kid, I never missed an All-Star Game. It's such a fun game, and right now it has tremendous ramifications for home-field [advantage] in the World Series. It's something that I take tremendous [pride] in."
With the year he's having at the plate, it seems only fair that he's the top dog in the ballots. Heading into Wednesday's action, Rodriguez leads the Majors in home runs (28), RBIs (77), total bases (194) and runs scored (72). He attributed much of his first-half success this season to finally finding a comfort level playing in New York.
"I've always said it takes some people six months, a year, maybe two years to get used to New York," Rodriguez said. "For me, perhaps, it's taken a full three and a half years. I'm at that point where I've let all distractions get out of the way and really focused on the game. I really enjoy the game and don't worry about what's being written and what's being said.
"I couldn't care less about what's written. What I care about is how you play the game, how your teammates and coaches feel about you. When you get over 2 million votes, that's something that I'll never forget."
Even off the field, living the New York lifestyle has taken some getting used to for Rodriguez. He said he and his wife have learned to enjoy the city's pulse by going out to restaurants and plays with regularity.
"I've had some of the best ups and some of the worst downs in New York from a performance point of view," he said. "If you realize that this is the best and this is the worst, you might as well go out and have fun. You just have to embrace New York and enjoy New York."
"I'm at that point where I've let all distractions get out of the way and really focused on the game. I really enjoy the game and don't worry about what's being written and what's being said."
-- Alex Rodriguez
It's important to remember, however, that there was life before the Big Apple for Rodriguez. He attributed much of his growth and success to Lou Piniella, who managed him for seven years in Seattle, and Edgar Martinez, with whom he played alongside for the Mariners.
Their guidance, he said, led him to what he's become -- a force on the field and the leader of arguably the most potent lineup in baseball.
"I make it a point to be here early, stay here late and be available for my teammates," Rodriguez said. "But leadership is not something that comes with great numbers, home runs, or RBIs. It's something that's anointed to you by your teammates, your coaches and your manager. And for me, the way I lead is through example."
Rodriguez has also led the wave of fan interaction by launching arod.com in 2006. He enjoys letting fans into his personal life and professional career, one of the reasons he agreed to a one-on-one interview with MLB.com after politely declining approximately 60 other offers, said Steve Fortunato, Rodriguez's business spokesman.
"He thought MLB.com is doing a great job and would be a great forum for him," Fortunato said. "He wants to help promote the All-Star voting and just thought it would be a good way for the fans to hear him speak."
After mentioning everything from the children's books he's written to the eclectic range of Madonna to Jay-Z on his iPod, Rodriguez gave insight into what the future holds for the 31-year-old standout.
"There are no guarantees in life, but like some famous athletes have said, '99.9 percent chance I would never coach or manage in the Major Leagues,'" Rodriguez said. "But I do have interest in owning a ballclub someday, and I have interest in putting into practice my crazy work ethic that I have in baseball in the business world."
If his future team mirrors the success he's had over his 14-year career, he's got a World Series champion in the making.