BALTIMORE -- Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez remembers the moment when the image on his childhood poster -- Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. -- became reality for him in a relationship that intertwined a young boy's hero with a mentor and friend.
Now 35, Rodriguez -- whose face peppered the walls of top shortstop prospect Manny Machado's Hialeah, Fla., home -- has made it a point to pass down the tutelage.
"To see kind of when the roles are reversed how incredibly good [Ripken] was to me, how he took me under his wing and became a mentor to me and his game, he helped me out of a lot," said Rodriguez, who asked to meet Machado when he saw the teenager working out at the University of Miami this winter.
"I feel like this is an opportunity to do the same for another young fellow. So it's kind of a nice circle, a little energy going."
That his former idol and current pupil are involved in the same rival organization -- Machado, the Orioles' top prospect, started his professional career with the Ripken-owned Aberdeen IronBirds last season -- isn't lost on Rodriguez.
"It's kind of a cool story, with me and Cal and him," said Rodriguez, who was struck by Machado's maturity and willingness to ask questions during the pair's winter workouts.
"[He is] a really good kid. If I was an Orioles fan, I would be really excited to see what this kid has to offer for the next -- at least for the next -- decade or so. It's going to be very exciting."
Machado, who grew up about a half-hour's drive from Rodriguez's old Miami haunt, was Baltimore's top pick and the third overall selection in last June's First-Year Player Draft. The skinny high schooler drew Major League scouts from all over the country, some daring enough to compare him to Rodriguez -- the player Machado became whenever he would allow himself to fantasize on the fields at nearby Goodlet Park or from the stands at Florida Marlins games, with the company his mother worked for occasionally giving them tickets.
So when the 19-year-old was approached by Rodriguez's trainer at the Hurricanes' facility, Machado pounced at the opportunity to meet his idol.
"I definitely look at it as a great thing," said Machado who, like Rodriguez, had been hearing the comparisons for the last few years. "He's had an amazing career and is a future Hall of Famer, and I can just pick his brain and notice his work ethic. He's working just as hard as me, and I'm a young guy still trying to prove myself. He's already done all that. So it just drives me to work even harder."
In between grueling sessions, they talked about the Major Leagues and how to handle the hype. Rodriguez, who told reporters this spring that he wanted to adopt a more leadership/mentoring role with the Yankees, was impressed by how advanced Machado's skill set was compared to other top high school players.
"Players who come from Miami usually are very advanced, because of the level of competition -- I think it helped me out and it's going to help him," Rodriguez said. "The nice thing is you don't get that overwhelming effect when you are in the Minor Leagues. I was extremely impressed with his talent and his willingness to want to get better."
After a torrid start with Class A Delmarva, Machado has leveled off some in his first full season of professional ball. He is hitting .276 (16-for-58), with six extra-base hits, eight RBIs and 12 runs scored in 15 games. There is no need to inform Rodriguez, who smiled knowingly from inside the visitors' clubhouse at Camden Yards this past weekend when the youngster's progress was brought up.
"It's pretty awesome," Machado said. "[Rodriguez] said he would keep up on me, and he has."
"[I'm] very interested to see how he's going to develop," Rodriguez said. "He's going to be good."
Entering Monday, Machado has also been walked 10 times, tied for the team lead with outfielder Trent Mummey, who was just promoted to Class A Frederick. Machado has goals for this season -- most notably to raise his average to a steady .300 -- but he doesn't have a specific level that he'd like to reach in mind. Machado does acknowledge staying in Delmarva the entire season would be a disappointment.
Signing cost Machado most of last year, so he said he is loving his first true taste of Minor League baseball, citing the camaraderie with teammates like Mychal Givens and Jonathan Schoop -- another young infielder off to a hot start -- as incredibly beneficial to helping the trio's development.
Already the organization's top prospect, Machado is expected to move up at least one level this season, possibly more if his play warrants it. Manager Buck Showalter, who diligently monitors the Minor Leagues, will bring up Machado and Schoop's play in pregame media sessions with Orioles beat reporters, and Rodriguez -- like many around baseball -- foresees more than just Machado's name owning a presence inside Camden Yards.
"He's obviously very impressive and has a very bright future," Rodriguez said. "I think the Orioles are in good hands with him."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.