As they say, timing is everything.
Because if Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez had set their sights on each other at any other time than early 2017, when he was retired from playing baseball and she was single and all the stars were aligned...
It just wouldn't have worked out. The proper life experience would not yet have been tucked under their respective belts, and they would've been ships in the night. As they were in 2005, when Lopez and then-husband Marc Anthony posed for a photo with the Yankees' married third baseman during a Subway Series game.
"I describe it as the luckiest day of my life," Rodriguez—who's celebrating his 45th birthday today with his adoring fiancée—said on Ellen about the day when the iconic entertainer, clad in her plainclothes-cop wear for Shades of Blue, tapped him on the shoulder while he was looking for his car after a meeting in Los Angeles.
It admittedly took him a few seconds to put the face, framed by her character's curly hair, with the reality.
"'Oh my god, Jennifer, you look beautiful,'" he remembered saying. "I was so embarrassed and then I got a little nervous...And she says, 'You have my number, reach out.' And I went home that night and reached out."
And with that, the beast was tamed.
Not that Lopez was leading a boring life, or that Rodriguez had been behaving in a way that's not incredibly common in the celebrity—and particularly the sporting—world, but he didn't exactly have the greatest reputation as far as being a quality significant other went.
A rumored fling with Madonna (denied by both camps) interfered with the timeline of his divorce from wife Cynthia Scurtis, the mother of his daughters Natasha and Ella, in 2008 after six years of marriage.
When Cynthia, who met the baseball star in 1998 when she was a grad student in Miami and he was still a Seattle Mariner, filed for divorce, she did allege "extramarital affairs and other marital misconduct" on her husband's part.
"My husband and I are not planning on getting a divorce," Madonna, who was still married to Guy Ritchie, said in a statement in July 2008. "I know Alex Rodriguez through Guy Oseary, who manages both of us. I brought my kids to a Yankee game. I am not romantically involved in any way with Alex Rodriguez."
In November 2008, Madonna and Ritchie announced that they were divorcing.
Regardless, Rodriguez had been labeled "Stray-Rod" by the New York Post when he was photographed with a woman identified as a former Vegas stripper in 2007, so... Madonna wasn't exactly needed as a Material witness or anything. A-Rod and his wife also had a prenuptial agreement and the state of Florida, where their family lived in a $12 million mansion in Coral Gables, doesn't financially penalize spouses for infidelity in divorce cases, unless dictated by the prenup.
Rodriguez and Cynthia had their financial and custody issues sewn up within a few months and have remained friendly co-parents of Ella and Natasha, both of whom have seemingly eased happily into modern-family life with Lopez's twins, Max and Emme. "From the beginning, we always put the kids first, so that they would grow and have emotional wellness and not feel a lot of the tugging that you see sometimes that happens in families that are divorced," Cynthia told ABC's Nightline in October 2017. The segment showed the exes in Florida, amiably watching a video on Rodriguez's phone of Lopez performing after catching her show in Las Vegas.
For the first several years after his divorce, Rodriguez showed no signs that he was looking to get too serious with anyone, instead dating fellow not-too-anxious-to-settle-down stars such as Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz.
He didn't keep his recognizable girlfriends a secret (not that it was possible, anyway). They went to baseball games and they'd go on dates and vacations, the usual, but there were no Met Galas or Hollywood premieres, or any other splashy red carpet photo opportunities.
In 2012, however, Rodriguez started dating model and former WWE diva Torrie Wilson, and they stayed together for about three years. But much as was the case with his teammate Derek Jeter—whose style on and off the field when it came to skills, stats, attitude, clothes, dating and everything else you can think of was compared to A-Rod's (or was it the other way around?) during all their years together—it was fairly clear that Rodriguez wasn't planning on making any big, personal moves while he was still playing ball.
When Wilson and Rodriguez split up in 2015, Page Six reported that she got tired of his unwillingness to commit.
"Torrie is a lovely girl," a Yankees source told the site. "The last thing Alex needs now is to be single, dating and distracted by women."
In fact, it was a pretty big step for A-Rod when he made his public debut with his next girlfriend, biologist and 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki, at the 2016 Met Gala. Wojcicki's ex-husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, was in attendance that night but Jennifer Lopez, usually a Met Gala regular, skipped it that year.
Because, ships in the night.
Rodriguez ended up retiring from playing toward the end of the 2016 season, announcing that August that he'd be moving into a consulting position with the Yankees.
"This is a tough day," he told reporters in a prepared statement. "I love this game, and I love this team, and today I am saying goodbye to both."
With that, all bets were off as to what A-Rod would do next. Suffice it to say, as he figured out his next step and got used to not being a professional baseball player for the first time in 22 years, he and Wojcicki split up by the end of 2016. Her mother, Esther, sent an untimely parting gift, telling The New York Times in November 2017 that she couldn't have "an intellectual conversation about anything" with the athlete when he dated her daughter.
Anne was more charitable, however, saying, "Alex is a really sweet guy. He's a smart guy. He's a good person. Alex lives in this world of cash-flow businesses, and Silicon Valley lives in this world of the potential of the future. So it was actually kind of a really fun conversation."
Meanwhile, in February 2017, Rodriguez was spotted at one of J.Lo's Vegas shows.
"Jennifer and Alex are both not looking for a relationship, just a good light-hearted time," a source told E! News that March. "They are on the exact same page."
Everything about this pairing just seemed so right—but maybe also entirely wrong? A-Rod was known as kind of a ladies' man, and the thrice-married Lopez, who admittedly preferred the company of a boyfriend to spending too much time solo, wasn't exactly known for her taste in guys with long-term potential. Yet at the same time...
Totally meant to be, right? How did they manage to not be a couple for so long?!
They both come from humble beginnings in New York and, though A-Rod spent most of his childhood in Florida, maintain close ties to the city and their families. Each has divorced parents, though Lopez's split up after 33 years of marriage and Rodriguez's dad walked out on the family when he was 9. They're both among the most recognizable faces in the world, have their own piles of money (so neither's love costs a thing) and are devoted to their children. They both get the fame game and crazy schedules and understand that you've got to put in the effort and the airline miles to be together. They both work out a lot, to put it mildly.
And rather importantly, because distance doesn't always make celebrity hearts grow fonder, they handily split their time between Miami and Los Angeles, where Rodriguez is based (in normal times, at least) while working as a baseball analyst for Fox Sports.
Even if both of them agreed to take it slow at first, they soon accelerated. When they marked their one-year anniversary on Feb. 3, 2018, Lopez gave her boyfriend a shout-out from the stage in Minneapolis, where they were both in town for the Super Bowl.
Before launching into her song "Us," she said, "We've been together for one year today. I don't want to get all mushy or anything, but Baby, this song's for you. I love you."
Rodriguez popped the question in the Bahamas in March 2019 with a $1 million diamond ring. Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, they did have to pump the brakes on what was surely going to be a spectacular wedding in Italy this summer, but otherwise they're still easing along in cruise control.
"You are on TV right now and I'm sitting here in the studio watching you and thinking about how I only want to be right here with you... laughing and joking and enjoying life together... whatever that is, wherever that is...doesn't matter. That's the blessing I have in you... happy birthday 13...," Lopez captioned her happy-birthday post for Rodriguez first thing Monday morning, celebrating the occasion with a slickly produced montage of clips of their life together, set to Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons' "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."
"It's good, it's healthy; we communicate well," Lopez told Harper's Bazaar in 2018 about their relationship. "We understand each other's lives in a way that most other people couldn't." She added, "We both entered the public eye in our early twenties and overachieved right from the start. And that affects every dynamic in your life, from your family to your work to your relationships. We have a similar makeup."
"Jennifer's an amazing person...She has like 10 jobs," Rodriguez said, smiling, on Nightline. "She loves sports, she's an athlete herself, a great mother, great daughter, great friend."
Regarding his past stumbles, personally and professionally, he said, "Sure there are some regrets along the way, but I think you don't have to be defined by those mistakes. How you come back matters too."
While Rodriguez was ostensibly a private-as-possible person for years, even when he was dating paparazzi-enticing actresses, his Instagram may as well be called "The J.Lo Show," as packed as it is with photos and videos of the girlfriend he's so obviously enamored with.
Even their birthdays are only three days apart.
"Happy Birthday, Macha!!! Every moment with you is magical," Rodriguez celebrated her on July 24, also with a montage of moments together (including when he got down on one knee on the beach to propose), this one set to Dean Martin crooning "Volare."
"You are the greatest partner, the best mom, the most amazing performer. A role model. A hero. An inspiration. I'm so proud of you. I love you so much!" he wrote.
To which Lopez replied, "Omg!! I love you and feel so blessed today to have you to celebrate with my baby!!"
(Originally published July 27, 2018, at 3 a.m. PT)