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Long helps transform A-Rod into a winner --as a person


In his first four trips to the postseason with the Yankees, Rodriguez's bat was nowhere to be found. Dating from Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, A-Rod was 0-for-29 with runners in scoring position. That all changed in 2009 with two game-tying homers in the ALDS, one in the ALCS and six RBIs in the World Series as the Yanks ended their nine-year drought. Photo Credit: John Dunn

Kevin Long sat Alex Rodriguez down one night last November and told him that being the best wasn't good enough anymore.

Even before a series of distractions that would hit A-Rod in the coming months, Long was looking for a transformation.

"What Alex and I concentrated on was not only being a good baseball player but also a good person off the field," Long said Saturday before a clinic for coaches and kids at Matt Guiliano's "Play Like a Pro'' in Hauppauge.

"Interacting with people, going out of your way, giving a bit of yourself so that other people can feed off of that."

Long, the Yankees' hitting coach since 2007, has counseled Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano. But perhaps his greatest success has been with one of the most complicated athletes of this era.

He's watched Rodriguez get booed and win MVP hardware, sometimes in the same year. He's watched him struggle in the postseason. Now he's watched him dominate the postseason.

But though Long calls Rodriguez "one of the absolute best talents I've ever seen," there still was the perception that he had trouble relaxing and just being himself, which impacted his play at times. Any good hitting coach also is part psychologist, and Long set out to fix a player with a near-perfect swing.

"Becoming a better teammate, becoming a better boyfriend, becoming a better father, becoming a better friend to his people that surround him," Long said of the areas Rodriguez tackled. "And the team took him in. And when he had the steroid stuff come out and he had a hip injury and baseball was taken away from him, those were the most important things in his life, and it showed."

Long noticed the change almost instantly. "When he came back, he was a different person," he said. "The media came up to me, a lot of people, and said, 'Wow, this is a changed person. He's really interacting well with a lot of other people.' And to me that means a whole lot more than just this talented baseball player. To see him transform into a complete person was neat for me."

Long said he enjoys giving back because "a lot of what I've done in life is because people helped me." Many of the kids at Long's clinic were underprivileged, and the lessons he taught them between anecdotes about the 2009 season and hitting demonstrations were many of the same key points he emphasized to Rodriguez during their meeting last year.

"If you want to be a leader and you want people to follow you and you want people to kind of gravitate towards you, you can't just be a talent on the baseball field," Long said.

"You have to surround yourself with good people, you have to live the right way, you have to do the right things, and if you do that, people see that. And I think that's what ultimately transpired, and you saw a team of 25 guys that were really a family, and Alex was a big part of that."

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