Dr. Anish Shah’s favorite memory of Alex Rodriguez was watching him deliver in the clutch. It was Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS, and the now-surgeon and lifelong Yankees fan was in the stands at the Stadium when Rodriguez hit a tying two-run homer in the ninth inning of an 11-inning victory over the Twins.
It’s been more than a decade since that day, and so much has changed: Shah, a surgery resident at Stony Brook University Hospital, is on the front lines against the COVID-19 pandemic. Baseball is on hiatus. And, on Friday evening, it was A-Rod himself who got to experience what Shah and his colleagues have been able to do in the very (very) clutch.
Several surgeons at Stony Brook Hospital got a special interloper during their weekly Friday night Zoom happy hour. Rodriguez, responding to Shah’s invite, crashed the virtual gathering and offered up some words of encouragement.
The surgery team and residents have been redeployed and dispersed during the pandemic, said Shah, now working in the COVID-19 ICU unit, and the weekly meetings serve as a much-needed morale boost during a time when morale is in scarce supply.
A-Rod provided plenty of that.
“It was pretty surreal,” said Shah, who contacted Rodriguez’s team after learning about the possibility as part of a promotion for the ex-slugger’s beer brand. “I was ecstatic. I was excited . . . We started this happy hour as a way to connect with each other and check in on a weekly basis and make sure morale is high across the board, and then when I found out that A-Rod would be able to join us, it was just a lot of excitement. I told everyone that we’re going to have a big surprise.”
In the video, the doctors sit with their drinks and wait as a black box blinks onto the screen with the name “Alex Rodriguez.” That’s when the reality of the surprise dawns on everyone and Rodriguez comes to life, sitting in his yard, beer in hand. He stayed on with the team for about five minutes. He encouraged them to stay healthy, stay strong and take care of their mental well-being.
“We will be better and stronger when we come out of this,” he said. “It’s going to be a more disciplined world — a world that is a little more appreciative, more grateful. I’ve noticed people have been more generous, more humble, and I think that’s something this world welcomes, for sure.”
Pivotal is “keeping a strong and healthy mind, because you’re only going to go as far as your attitude. Your attitude will determine your altitude,” he said.
Shah said that last message was the one that resonated with him and his colleagues the most. “Everyone was just really touched and kind of rejuvenated after that,” he said.
Rodriguez wasn’t paid for the appearance.
The entire team has been taken out of their comfort zones, Shah said, and is doing new things while battling a never-before-seen foe.
“As hard as it is right now, we’re going to be better off because of this pandemic in some ways because we learned a lot,” Shah said. “As difficult as it is, it’s also really rewarding . . . and [our attitudes now] is going to be something that we’re going to lean on throughout our careers.”
And that big home run Shah saw A-Rod hit? It was off Joe Nathan . . . who had played for Stony Brook.