Alex Rodriguez celebrates with students

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez wanted to celebrate his 600th home run with six other high achievers -- no, not those six sluggers.

A-Rod was thinking of a group closer to home.

The three-time MVP had lunch at Yankee Stadium with six superb students from the Bronx Preparatory Charter School on Sunday before New York played the Boston Red Sox.

"As I came up to 600 -- it took a lot longer -- and I had time to think about what I wanted to do," said Rodriguez, who went 12 days before becoming the seventh player to reach the milestone. "I wanted to encourage you to celebrate your great work, let you know it's not being ignored."

Rodriguez strode into the conference room to greet the waiting students without a limp a day after being struck on the left leg by a grounder during batting practice. After introductions, the 13-time All-Star and the pupils took slices of a hero sandwich held together by toothpicks sporting a Yankees flag.

His lunch companions were hand-picked for their accomplishments by Jackie King, the principal of the school of 682 students a short distance from the ballpark. In the past three years, every graduating senior from the school has gone on to college.

The Yankees brought their World Series trophy to the school after winning it last fall.

Rodriguez asked the teenagers about their backgrounds and passed around his phone so everyone could see a photograph of his two daughters.

When he was asked about hitting his 600th homer, Rodriguez made everyone laugh with a story about his eldest child, 5-year-old Natasha, who each day after he hit No. 599 asked if he had hit No. 600. When he finally did, Natasha said, "OK, great, dad. Now can we go to the pool?"

Encouraging the students to pursue their goals, Rodriguez was only stumped once, when George Guzman, who has a 2-hour ride to school every day, asked what was his greatest achievement was besides baseball and his children.

The three-time MVP hesitated, started and stopped an answer several times, before hitting on a theme that has helped him since the start of spring training in 2009.

"I'm at peace with myself," Rodriguez said. "I've been through a lot the last 24 months. You may or may not know about what I've been through."

He didn't mention his divorce, admitted steroid use or major hip surgery -- but he didn't mention his World Series championship, either. He wasn't asked about any of the topics.

He did say that speaking to youths was a big part of his life and gave him great satisfaction. He also talked about his love for reading and how he is challenging Natasha to read for an hour every day.

Humbled by and impressed with the Bronx prep students, Rodriguez emphasized that one does not need to be a big league ballplayer with 600 homers or movie star to be successful.

"You can be a cop or an attorney, nurse, doctor and find other ways to be heroes in your community," Rodriguez said.

After the lunch, the students watched batting practice from the field and got autographs. They then watched the game from a suite -- Rodriguez jokingly told them: "It's the Red Sox. I can't guarantee you a box."