Alex Rodriguez approached Randi Mahomes with a smile on his face and a joke to tell. This was 17 years ago. Randi’s son was a preschooler then. Just 5 years old. Closely cropped hair. Until a month or so ago, this was Rodriguez’s last memory of Patrick Mahomes.
Anyway, about the smile and the joke.
“You know,” Randi remembered Rodriguez saying. “People keep thinking this is my son.”
Rodriguez is a three-time MVP and is now a broadcaster for ESPN’s baseball coverage. That story Randi told was a flash across a 22-year career that included nearly 3,000 big-league games and dozens of kids through clubhouses, so you’ll excuse him if he did not immediately make the connection until a month or so ago.
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Rodriguez played with Pat Mahomes, Patrick’s father, for the Texas Rangers in 2001. He called Pat one of his favorite teammates — “If anybody even threw near me, he would go hit someone on the other team,” Rodriguez joked — but he didn’t think much of his son until the calls started pouring in this fall.
“So everyone started to call me,” Rodriguez said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s crazy.’ I guess he kept mentioning my name. But I haven’t talked to anyone. You’re the first, other than ESPN.”
Mahomes has quickly become a star quarterback, not just for the Chiefs but across the league. In Kansas City, people keep asking how Mahomes will handle the new fame. They ask how he can be a leader of men at just 23, how he can earn the respect of older teammates with families, and the answers almost always include Rodriguez’s name.
Andy Reid, the coach whose blessing was required to trade up for Mahomes in last year’s draft, has mentioned Rodriguez a half-dozen times. Mahomes does it, too, as well as his father and mother and so many others close to him.
“I got to watch him a lot,” Mahomes said. “Just being in the batting cages, just hitting, him letting me take ground balls with him. Just to see how he worked.”
Full disclosure, my interest in this story was borne from skepticism. Mahomes’ father and Rodriguez only played one season together. How much of an impact could it have made?
Well, a big one.
Patrick Mahomes called Rodriguez his favorite player, and other than LaTroy Hawkins — his godfather, and close mentor — the athlete who left the biggest impression on him.
He wore Rodriguez’s No. 13 on every team he played on growing up, and one year for Halloween he went as a baseball player — with Rodriguez’s batting gloves, sunglasses and bat.
“He thought he was Alex,” Randi said.
The memories have come back to Rodriguez, too. How closely Patrick watched. How he would wait until offered to hit, and was always the first to pick up the balls. How he asked advanced questions for a kid his age, like how to hit with power to the opposite field, or why Rodriguez came in for extra work the day after hitting a home run.
“What I remember is what a great face he had,” Rodriguez said. “How thirsty he was, how respectful. What I mean by (great face), you always want someone who when they walk into the clubhouse they’re going to bring energy, leadership, a good feeling. He always had that good aura around him, just like his dad.”
Rodriguez remembers telling Patrick an athlete is only as good as what he does after success, that you have to keep grinding to be great, and it’s something he probably told a bunch of kids over the years. Rodriguez never expected any of them to be big-leaguers, though he does laugh at the memory of telling Patrick there was no future in football.
“Your future is in baseball, that’s what I told him,” Rodriguez said, laughing. “I’m happy he didn’t listen to me then, so I’m not giving him any more advice.”
If Mahomes was obsessed with Rodriguez then, it was a familiar obsession. He called Rodriguez “dad’s friend,” and the bat he used at Halloween? Rodriguez signed it, with a personalized message, and Mahomes played with it as a toy.
Life moves fast, and all these years later Mahomes is beginning his own professional career. Those lessons spill out in so much of what he does. The moment hasn’t seemed too big for him, and maybe that’s because he was shagging fly balls before a World Series game when he was 5.
He’s diligent about saving mementos for teammates — handing Chiefs center Mitchell Schwartz the game ball after his 100th straight start, for instance — and maybe that’s because he saw similar gestures done for his father’s teammates.
He deflects questions about his own success by talking about his mistakes and framing his job as getting the ball to his teammates to make plays, and maybe that’s because he saw how so many baseball players did it.
This is nature and nurture both, then, a professional pitcher’s son grown into an outrageously talented quarterback with a temperament that’s somehow both appreciative and genuinely unimpressed by it all.
Rodriguez calls himself a Chiefs fan now. He and Patrick have messaged over social media. He wants to catch a game sometime, to see his old friend all grown up.
“Tell him I say hello,” Rodriguez said. “You have my number, so please give it to him.”