07/20/2007 6:45 PM ET
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NEW YORK -- Nine-year-old Alexa Valentin couldn't keep from smiling.
She had stood with her father for more than an hour in the line that wrapped around Fifth Avenue's FAO Schwarz on Friday morning, patiently waiting to see Alex Rodriguez face-to-face after traveling into Manhattan from Hackensack, N.J.
Valentin had seen him before, of course, from afar -- on the field, on television and in pictures -- but never like this. She was so excited meet Rodriguez that when she finally reached the front of the line, seeing him rendered her speechless.
"When I saw him I couldn't say a word," Valentin said. "My mouth just dropped open and I couldn't say anything. I couldn't, I just couldn't. It just dropped open."
Rodriguez spent an hour and a half greeting fans and signing copies of his children's book "Out of the Ballpark" on Friday afternoon at the world famous toy store, after he and his wife Cynthia read the story to a group of 9-year-olds.
The book, a story inspired by Rodriguez's childhood -- "90 percent true," he told the kids -- shares the experiences of a young boy named Alex who wants to succeed playing baseball. After hard work and determination, Alex overcomes his mistakes and ends up hitting a championship-winning home run.
Rodriguez said he wrote the story as an inspiration for children everywhere, getting the idea from his own 2-year-old daughter, Natasha, who loves to read. Natasha Rodriguez joined her mother and father briefly after the reading, singing "Doe a Deer" with her father in front of the crowd.
"Children can never have enough books," Rodriguez said. "If someone like me can make it to the Major Leagues, any child that reads this book, they can achieve their dreams, too."
There were plenty of children waiting to meet him on Friday, clutching copies of the book in one fist and their parent's hand in the other.
Jackson Muncan, from New York, N.Y., had Rodriguez's stats ready on hand as he approached the Yankees All-Star. Rodriguez, now nearing 500 career home runs, leads the Majors in home runs and RBIs this season, and the 7-year-old wasn't about to let the chance slip by to ask him for pointers.
"It was cool," eight-year-old Hunter Derubertis from New York City, confirmed shyly, still wide-eyed from meeting Rodriguez. "I asked him one question. I asked him, 'How do you hit a home run?' He said you swing under the ball. He's hit 32 home runs, so he knows."
Fans who attended the signing also helped out Rodriguez, as the proceeds from each copy of the book purchased at FAO Schwarz will benefit the A-Rod Family Foundation. FAO Schwarz will also donate 15 percent of its sales made during the signing period to the Foundation.
The Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to positively impacting families in distress, addresses a cause that is important to Rodriguez and his family, and Rodriguez was pleased to see his fans support both him and the organization.
"It's very exciting to see everyone come out," Rodriguez said. "To deal with some positive energy and passionate fans is very enjoyable."
That energy practically bubbled out of Alexa Valentin after Rodriguez signed her copy of the book, though while she stood there she still couldn't find the words to say to her idol. Just being that close to him, however, was enough.
Minutes later, she couldn't stop talking.
"I met Alex Rodriguez, I saw him in real life, in person," Valentin said. "He's a nice man. I'm one of his biggest fan because I'm really a baseball fan, too, so I was just really excited to meet him in person. I thought just seeing him was really, really cool."