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Agassi still positive in time of difficulty

They held a news conference at the Bellagio on Tuesday about ways to help better educate children and Andre Agassi was involved, which is like saying CC Sabathia is about to receive a decent raise.

The baseball winter meetings a day before honored Las Vegas resident Greg Maddux as one of history’s finest players as he announced his retirement.

Agassi also produced a Hall of Fame sports career, but while his tennis excellence is appreciated locally, it’s his charitable nature that sets him apart from all others. There are the philanthropic deeds of local celebrities and there is Agassi.

It’s like comparing the size of Monaco to China.

Agassi today, though, is a man torn by emotion, both joyful as he looks to celebrating the first graduating class of his preparatory academy in June and despondent over the breakup of a lifelong friendship that has resulted in his wife being sued.

Agassi and Perry Rogers officially parted business ways in October, and seven weeks later Rogers sued Steffi Graf for $50,000, citing breach of contract.

There are countless more layers to this than a sum of money that is minuscule in the vastness that is Agassi Enterprises and Graf’s own holdings. Minor details don’t end relationships like the one Agassi and Rogers had. Serious issues lined this split, perhaps even beyond reports of the collapse of a major business investment.

Somewhere along the line, it became personal and, because of that, very public.

“Sure, it’s been tough,” Agassi said. “It’s like a divorce in many ways. I still don’t think I’m in a place where I can process this yet. None of it is easy. At the end of the day, you try to get through it as responsibly as possible. I certainly love my wife more than life itself and will be there for her during this time. We will be there to support each other and never forget that between it all is still life.

“At the end of the day, I have a lot to be thankful for. You count your blessings.”

His generosity was not lost Tuesday. Torii Hunter launched an education initiative, where a program bearing the Los Angeles Angels outfielder’s name will reward a minimum of 100 scholarships in the next four years to high school graduates from three schools across the country, including Agassi Prep.

Agassi’s foundation has clothed thousands of children and sheltered others who are abused and neglected by parents in rehab or jail. He has built structures that protect kids during crucial after-school hours. And each time his school is the beneficiary of a program such as Hunter’s, all that Agassi has done for deprived kids in Las Vegas is again recounted and celebrated. Those moments can’t happen too often.

The precise elements that led to the split with Rogers remain for the most part unexplained by both parties, but the significance Agassi holds in this community never narrows. Nor should it.

His ambition to provide a national average of funding, a higher than national average of accountability and to then use those resources on educating children society has abandoned has reached incomparable levels. His desire that all youth be given the same learning opportunities here is unmatched.

“For a number of years I realized you sort of end up chasing your tail,” Agassi said. “You’re sort of sticking Band-Aids on real issues, and the only way to create real change and make a difference in a child’s life and to interrupt that downward spiral and give them tools of hope is to educate them.

“(The first graduating class in June) will be very emotional for me. To see those kids go on to a future of their choice … it’s pretty incredible when you realize what their alternative would have been without our school. I can’t wait to see their faces. I’m sure it will be a little overwhelming.”

He is a man torn by emotion today and yet still one whose expression brightens at the mention of his family, of his wife and two children, of a daughter who has taken to the sport from which her parents produced fairly incredible careers and a son who seems to have a knack for hitting a different type of ball.

Agassi helped assist 7-year-old Jaden’s baseball team this fall. It was a coach-pitch league, and the old man was assigned the job of throwing strikes to the kids.

“We went undefeated and (Jaden) had 53 at-bats and 50 hits for a .943 average,” the proud father said. “You can argue I was finding the sweet spot for him, but nevertheless it worked. And I lived and died with every swing.

“I don’t know what normal feels like, but that’s pretty normal for me.”

You get the idea he would take a lot more normal nowadays.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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