Meanwhile, Mariners DH Edgar Martinez was calling Rodriguez every day to try to keep him in Seattle. Other players called, too, over the past two months: Robin Ventura and John Franco of the Mets; Chipper Jones and Greg Maddux of the Braves; Kenny Rogers, Rafael Palmeiro and Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers, among others. No one was more impressive to Rodriguez, though, than Hicks.
The 54-year-old Hicks, who made his fortune as a leveraged-buyout specialist, drove him around north Dallas and the SMU campus near the center of the city, where Rodriguez, who lives in Miami, surveyed the flat, leafy land and youthful energy and remarked, "This reminds me of Coral Gables." Hicks told Rodriguez of the scores of corporate headquarters throughout the Dallas- Fort Worth metroplex and how, with Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman nearing retirement, the opportunities for endorsement deals and partnerships would be as numerous as stars in the sky. Hicks gave him a tour of the ballpark, and when they walked into the home team's clubhouse, several Rangers were there to greet him as was respected hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Rodriguez ate dinner one night with Mike Modano of the Stars.
"Mr. Hicks built a Stanley Cup winner around Modano and helped make him a star—that's his model," Rodriguez said last Thursday. "I'm not a huge hockey fan, but I knew exactly what he was talking about. I was thoroughly impressed with Mr. Hicks. We share the same vision. One thing I really like is, Mr. Hicks has all the power in the organization, knows what he wants and is committed to getting it done."
After 48 hours in Texas, Rodriguez and Boras boarded a jet to Colorado on Nov. 28 for a meeting with the Rockies. Rodriguez told Boras then, "You can put Texas down as a finalist right now." Colorado, it turned out, was involved in concurrent negotiations with free-agent pitcher Mike Hampton, and the talks with the lefthander accelerated faster than those with Rodriguez. The Rockies couldn't sign both players, and Hampton came to terms first, last Friday.
In addition to Colorado, the Braves and the Chicago White Sox made presentations, though none wowed Rodriguez as much as Texas's had. Atlanta, which seemed to be the shortest path to a World Series, intrigued Rodriguez. But he knew the team's negotiating history: The Braves had never engaged in drawn-out bidding wars and expected players to come to them for less money than other teams offered. Atlanta also had interest in Hampton but didn't have the stomach to stay in that race with the Rockies. Finally, Rodriguez was worried that the Braves could be nearing the end of a fabulous 10-year run, especially with Maddux, lefthander Tom Glavine and righthander John Smoltz in their mid-30s and approaching the end of their contracts.
Meanwhile, what Boras called only "a mystery team" had jumped back into the fray after Thanksgiving with repeated calls and a willingness to spend big. Major league sources later identified that team as the Baltimore Orioles, a club riding a three-year losing streak that had no chance at signing Rodriguez.
Last Thursday the Mariners sent a contingent to Miami to meet with Rodriguez and Boras. Chairman Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong didn't bother making the trip for what would be a crucial meeting late in the game. Rodriguez was stunned by their absence. Jongewaard, Piniella and general manager Pat Gillick sat in Rodriguez's house. "I can tell you I am seriously considering the Mariners," Rodriguez said. "But there are going to be no hometown discounts. I've done that before for you. Not this time."
At the end of the meeting Piniella, Rodriguez's only manager in the major leagues, threw his arms around the young shortstop and held him in a long, tight embrace. Tears welled in Piniella's eyes.
That night Rodriguez made an appearance at a cocktail party at a Giorgio Armani store in the tony Bal Harbour mall. Rodriguez has an endorsement deal with the designer. Techno music pulsed as models showed off Armani wear, waiters served champagne and truffles, and Rodriguez and Miami Heat coach Pat Riley mingled among guests. After the party Rodriguez stood in a courtyard beside an ornate fountain. "Right now," he said, "if you ask me where I'm going, I have no idea. I'm no closer to knowing than I am to jumping into that fountain and swimming. It's confusing. It's draining. I think of all the cities that are left, and I like Dallas best. After that, I don't know."