A few years ago, Roger Ball called his good friend Yuri Sucart about getting tickets to a Texas Rangers game for a female friend. Sucart willingly helped Ball; he could, since his younger cousin was the team's star shortstop. When the woman who would be picking up the tickets asked how she would recognize Sucart, Ball didn't hesitate.
"He's the Dominican Shrek," Ball said. "Yuri looks like this big, mean thing coming at you, but he's got the softest hands. He's sweet as a baby."
Sucart might physically resemble Shrek, but in everyday life, he is more like the green ogre's friend and companion, Donkey. For the past 16 years, Sucart has been Alex Rodriguez's loyal lieutenant, a full-time assistant -- and salaried employee -- whose job has been to safeguard his cousin and devote himself, at times blindly, to whatever the superstar desires.
"He lives and breathes to please Alex," one source close to both Sucart and Rodriguez says. "He seriously does whatever Alex tells him to do. He depends completely on Alex's good nature."
Perhaps even if that meant acquiring steroids illegally and injecting them into the New York Yankees third baseman, who had a two-hour meeting with Major League Baseball officials Sunday.
"Going back to 2001, my cousin started telling me about a substance that can be purchased over the counter in the DR [Dominican Republic]. In the streets, it's known as 'boli.' It was his understanding that it would give me a dramatic energy boost and was otherwise harmless. My cousin and I, one more ignorant than the other, decided it was a good idea to start taking it. My cousin would administer it to me, but neither of us knew how to use it properly, providing just how ignorant we both were. It was at this point we decided to take it twice a month for about six months. During the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons, we consulted no one and had no good reason to base that decision. It was pretty evident we didn't know what we were doing. We did everything we could to keep it between us, and my cousin did not provide any other players with it. I stopped taking it in 2003 and haven't taken it since.
-- Rodriguez, in his Feb. 17 news conference
Sucart's life, like his role with Rodriguez, is cloaked in mystery. Sucart declined to be interviewed for this story, and Rodriguez is declining to respond to non-baseball questions. But according to Ball, who's known the family since the early '90s, Sucart was born in 1962 and orphaned as an infant when his mother died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Lourdes Navarro, Rodriguez's mother and the sister of Sucart's mother, helped raise Sucart, according to Ball and family friends. It is unclear where Sucart lived when Navarro moved her family to New York, where her son Alex was born in 1975.
But when Rodriguez returned to the Dominican Republic for a few years in the early 1980s, the cousins became friendly; Sucart, 13 years Rodriguez's senior, was more like an older brother, according to sources. Sucart attended college for a few years in the Dominican before leaving for the United States, always reminding friends that he wasn't "a dummy."
Ball says Sucart was in New York City in the late '80s when he met his wife, Carmen, then a hairstylist, and they were married by a justice of the peace in 1992. According to Ball, Carmen had a son from a previous relationship, coincidentally named Alex, whom Yuri eventually adopted. The couple had two children together, Ashley and Yuri "Jay" Jr., and the family eventually settled in Miami.
Ball lived in the west Kendall section of Miami when he first met Sucart at the Rodriguez house. The two became friends, and Ball watched as Sucart started his life as Rodriguez's personal assistant in 1993, when Rodriguez was drafted No. 1 overall and then signed by the Seattle Mariners. Rodriguez had Sucart live with him in a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Seattle. Sucart took care of his cousin and received a salary that enabled him to provide for his family.
Sucart continued to stay with Rodriguez when Rodriguez went to Texas in 2001 after signing an unprecedented 10-year, $252 million deal. Although his role decreased when Rodriguez married Cynthia Scurtis in late 2002, Sucart remained a key person in his cousin's life.
In the early years, sources say, the relationship was brotherly, and Sucart -- whose first name is most often pronounced "Judy" -- was Rodriguez's friend and protector. But as Rodriguez experienced success in the big leagues, the dynamic with Sucart and the rest of Rodriguez's family began to shift.
"As Alex's star rose, his sense of entitlement grew," says a source who once was close to Rodriguez. "Yuri, Alex's brother [Joe Dunand] and others became more subservient. Alex's sense of entitlement combined with the rest's lack of success on their own made them 'yes men.'"
Sources say Sucart was chief among the "yes men." Whatever Rodriguez asked for, Sucart scrambled to provide. Rodriguez needed a soda? Sucart fetched one. The shoes needed shining? Sucart was on it. When women wanted to cozy up to Rodriguez, they would climb on Sucart's lap, trying to ply him with money and attention just to reach his rich, famous cousin, says a source who witnessed such scenes on numerous occasions.
"If Alex called at 3 in the morning and said, 'Make me soup,'" Ball said, "Yuri would be there."
Sucart was scared of putting his job in jeopardy because, as he confided to a friend, he had limited skills. Being Rodriguez's assistant was the primary job on his résumé, and the job had become increasingly stressful and businesslike over the years.
If Sucart ever lost his job, he would lose his ability to provide for his family. So it's no surprise to friends that Sucart has remained unfailingly committed. After Rodriguez left Seattle, a source once close to Rodriguez said, the family members began walking on egg shells around the player to avoid provocation.
"Yuri, unlike the others," he says, "would never say a negative word about Alex."
"Nothing else to do"
Sucart was more like Rodriguez's internal clock; according to sources, he went above and beyond the duties of an assistant.
Sucart often flew a day in advance to the next city where Rodriguez's team was playing. Rodriguez preferred to stay in a hotel separate from the team, and Sucart would prepare his cousin's room with whatever food and clothes were needed.
"Yuri was basically the guy who took care of everything," says Danny Martinez, a Spanish broadcaster for the Philadelphia Phillies and a friend of Sucart. "Whatever Alex needed, he'd get."
Once a friend and companion, Sucart's role started to change after Rodriguez signed with Texas. He was assigned menial tasks, such as waking up his cousin, doing the laundry, making Rodriguez's breakfast each morning, securing dinner reservations, withdrawing money from the bank, and booking flights for relatives and friends. J.D. Arteaga, a close friend of Rodriguez's who now is the assistant baseball coach for the University of Miami, said he visited Rodriguez twice in Seattle and called Sucart both times to make plane reservations.
It's unclear what Sucart's exact income is or has been, but friends say his compensation couldn't be much. Sucart always seems, according to one friend, to "just be getting by." The one-story house Sucart owns in Miami sits on a beautiful estate, but from the street, it looks to be in rugged shape. Friends say the house is "a dump."
For a time, Sucart tried finding alternate sources of income. He worked informally as an agent, getting cleats and gloves for a few Hispanic players. Sources said he hoped they'd hire him if they ever made it big, but that didn't come to fruition, and neither did an attempt to become a partner in a small sports agency. Sucart also bought a few properties in Miami and became a landlord, but the income generated from those purchases hasn't seemed to be the financial boon he'd envisioned.
So it always came back to working with Rodriguez, whom he would invariably shuttle to the ballpark and the gym. When Rodriguez had dinner plans, Sucart often waited outside in his car. With loads of downtime, Sucart has been known to rummage through the contacts on his cell phone.
"He's always on his cell phone," one close friend says. "He has nothing else to do."
But whenever trouble has loomed, it's been up to Sucart to remove Rodriguez from threatening environments and to "clean up messes," a friend of the cousins says. For instance, if there was a fight in a club or a bar Rodriguez was in -- even if it had nothing to do with Rodriguez -- Sucart would escort his cousin away.
"You'd put your head down," says a friend of both men, "and they'd both be gone."
"Very simple, very nice people"
Friends, colleagues and associates say with uniformity that Sucart is "sweet" and "humble" and "doesn't have a bad bone in his body." They portray him as a warm, charitable soul who always will pick up the entire dinner tab when able.
Sucart, though, is not a saint. He has had a reputation for not always following through on promises, whether it has been free tickets or signed memorabilia. Sucart often has left people hanging. But his reputation also is that of someone who never really seems to have a bad day, a fun person to party with who always is very social. When asked about her cousin, Rodriguez's half-sister, Susy Dunand-Silva, said he's "a great person" before adding that she could no longer speak to the media.
Sucart has had various health problems over the years, and friends have worried more about Sucart's health since his name became public. Sometime after Rodriguez went to Texas, Sucart had heart surgery, although one friend said it was an angioplasty while another said it was open-heart surgery to fix a valve.
In 2002, Sucart sought out Charles Colaw, a personal trainer and bodybuilder in Dallas, who said Sucart asked for help with a bad back. Friends say Sucart also has bad knees and takes several medications daily.
A true Dominican, Sucart's favorite foods are rice and beans, mixed in with some burnt bacon, but his health issues have forced him to adjust his diet, friends say. So he eats sushi, another favorite, and doesn't drink often. But when he does, a close friend of Sucart's said, it's a rum and coke while relaxing with a cigar, often purchased at friend and baseball agent Henry Vilar's cigar store in South Miami. (Vilar did not return calls to his cell phone and his store.)
Friends say that when Sucart is home in Miami, their conversations with him usually are not about the life of luxury he orchestrates for Rodriguez, but rather about Sucart's children.
The Sucarts are "very responsible, very dedicated with their children," says Esther Hernandez, co-founder of the International Baseball Academy, where Yuri Jr. plays third base for the under-14 team. "Carmen is here at every game. They're very simple, very nice people."
A foolish move
The day after ESPN reported Sucart was the cousin to whom Rodriguez referred in his Feb. 17 news conference, Ball got a phone call from Carmen, who was crying. Her children, she said, had been teased at school, with the other kids calling their dad a drug dealer. Carmen called a news conference for 10 a.m. ET on Feb. 20, but then asked Ball to tell the media to leave. Sources say the press conference was nixed when Rodriguez's team of advisers heard about it.
Sucart had been staying in Tampa, Fla., where Rodriguez trains with the Yankees, since his name was revealed. He resumed his daily routine, which last week included picking up his cousin in Dunedin after Rodriguez's first spring training game. Reporters for both the New York Post and The Journal News spotted Sucart when he absent-mindedly rolled down his tinted window.
Rodriguez was incensed with his cousin's foolish move, a source says, and MLB told the Yankees' star that Sucart is no longer allowed to be anywhere near big league ballparks, either this spring or during the regular season.
The news was devastating to Sucart, said a friend who spoke to him. Sucart is unsure what role he will have going forward but is said to know he still has a job.
"It's not within Yuri's character or skill set to be in the limelight and have to deal with the scrutiny, and it's terrible he was put in this position," said a source who once was close to Rodriguez. "He's not going to crack, but this has got to be eating him up inside."
Two weekends ago, numerous family members gathered to discuss, among other things, Rodriguez's meeting with MLB investigators, as well as the upcoming book by Selena Roberts -- the Sports Illustrated writer who first reported Rodriguez had failed his 2003 drug test -- and the possibility of more accusations surfacing. Sources said Rodriguez's half-sister, Dunand-Silva, his half-brother Joe Dunand and the Sucart family were to be among those present.
When asked whether Sucart was capable of obtaining steroids and injecting his cousin with them, numerous sources close to both men said Sucart would have followed any direction given by Rodriguez, even though Sucart didn't have the savvy or sophistication to initiate such an endeavor.
"If Alex said, 'I need you to inject me,' he would have injected him," said a friend close to Sucart. "I don't doubt that he would have injected him, but it wouldn't have been his idea."
A Rodriguez spokesman told ESPN that Sucart had a familiarity with needles because his health issues required injections of medication. Three sources said they were unaware of Sucart's using needles on himself.
"I have never seen or heard that Yuri was injecting himself with any medication," Ball wrote in an e-mail.
In the shadows
"I'd rather not get into who my cousin is. I'm here to stand front and center and take the blame because I am responsible for this. He basically took an instruction from me and felt he was doing something that was going to be helpful, not hurtful."
-- Rodriguez on Feb. 17
Friends of both men lament that Rodriguez implicated his devoted cousin when he detailed his drug use, and some say they suspect Sucart did not act alone if he did what Rodriguez described -- buying and injecting him with steroids.
Former major league pitcher Jose Rijo has known Sucart and Rodriguez for years. Rijo, a fellow Dominican, echoed other sources when he told ESPN's Pedro Gomez that Rodriguez should have taken sole responsibility for his actions.
"If Alex had been loyal to [Sucart], he would've kept him out of this, kept it quiet," said Rijo, fired last week as special assistant to the Washington Nationals following a scandal involving a top prospect. "Yuri has a life, a family; it's embarrassing for him, too. Only Alex knew what he put in his body, only Alex knew, and Alex as a player would know what's going on around steroids.
"I'm pretty sure Yuri wouldn't read a book about steroids, [and] say, 'Alex this is good for you, this would be the best kind.' I'm pretty sure that's not the case."
What role, if any, Dominican trainer Angel "Nao" Presinal played in Rodriguez's use of banned drugs is unclear, although he is banned from major league clubhouses and reports have suggested he was a steroids peddler. And while sources say Sucart would pick up Presinal at the airport and coordinate Presinal's time with Rodriguez, it has not been established that Presinal -- once Juan Gonzalez's personal trainer and a frequent visitor when Rodriguez was playing for the Rangers -- has done anything more than work closely with Rodriguez.
"I have never advised a player [to take steroids]; I have never talked about steroids with any athlete, with any baseball player," Presinal told ESPNDeportes.com last week. "I just wish there was someone out there with the courage to accuse me directly. That will never happen because folks respect me."
Just two days before Selena Roberts approached Rodriguez in a Miami gym about his 2003 positive steroids test, Rodriguez was with Presinal and Sucart in the Dominican Republic as about 20 of the country's major leaguers gathered for a workout in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. Video shot that day shows a relaxed Rodriguez on the field with Albert Pujols, Jose Guillen, David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, among others. Earlier, the camera captured Presinal in the training room greeting Rodriguez, with Sucart alongside. That shot of Sucart lasts for perhaps a second, and then he's out of the camera's sight, where he remained the rest of the day.
It seems that if it were up to Sucart, his life would stay in the shadows, out of the spotlight. If only the drama would end much like an animated movie, uncomplicated and neatly packaged as the credits roll. Instead, the so-called "Dominican Shrek" with the supporting role works and waits for the next scene, for his cousin's next move.
"I suppose, unless the truth is uncovered," says a close friend of Sucart, "Yuri will end up being the villain."
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. William Weinbaum, an ESPN enterprise unit producer, contributed to this report.