TAMPA, Fla. -- In his first appearance in a New York Yankees uniform in 17 months, Alex Rodriguez was cheered when he stepped out onto the field with his teammates shortly before noon, and he was cheered again when he came out of the dugout for batting practice about an hour later.
The crowd ooohed and aahed when the ball seemed to jump off his bat, and applauded when three of the 36 swings he took resulted in baseballs landing beyond the outfield fence.
In fact, Rodriguez was one of only two uniformed Yankees to draw any measurable response at all from a meager crowd of about 500 at the Yankees' first full-squad workout Thursday at Steinbrenner Field.
The other was Hideki Matsui, the MVP of the 2009 World Series, who is here as a guest instructor.
That may have been a commentary on Matsui, a perennial fan favorite, on the cool, overcast Tampa weather, or on the current, rather uninspiring state of the Yankees.
Or it may have been a sign that a majority of Yankee fans truly want to see Rodriguez succeed in his improbable quest to become a productive big league ballplayer again, 18 months removed from his last game and five months shy of his 40th birthday.
"It was pretty awesome," Rodriguez said after the workout and a post-workout lifting session. "I think sometimes you can take for granted being a major league baseball player. Just being able to go out there and stuff that I did when I was 10 years old. At the very least, I hope I get to finish my career up really appreciating the game."
For the hour or so that he was on the field, Rodriguez truly was "just like any other player," in the words of general manager Brian Cashman, stretching, participating in infield drills at third base and shortstop, and taking his hacks at the soft tosses of batting practice pitcher Danilo Valiente, although always under the watchful eyes of Cashman, manager Joe Girardi, about a hundred media members and that rather small gathering in the stands.
"Pretty much what I expected," is how Girardi described what he saw from Rodriguez on the field.
"I've said all along I don't think it's fair to judge him early, I really don't," Girardi said. "When you've played as few games as he has the last two years, the speed of the game is what you have to get used to. So I don't think it's fair to judge."
But Rodriguez was a tougher critic on himself than his manager.
"I wish it was as easy as hitting Danilo's 55 mph fastball," he said. "We can all look like an All-Star at that point. It doesn't mean anything. Let's see what happens when somebody is throwing 95."
If that is to be interpreted as a lack of confidence, it's understandable considering how few professional athletes at this level, or at this age, have been able to accomplish what Rodriguez is trying to do. Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard come to mind, but all were considerably younger than Rodriguez.
At one point, Rodriguez said he "felt like a rookie again," but he meant it not in the sense of feeling young and eager; rather, a bit strange and more than a little nervous.
"It's been awhile," he said. "Did it look weird out there?"
Not so much weird as difficult. Rodriguez didn't hit one out of the park until his fourth round of BP, and hit a couple back-to-back in his fifth round. Meanwhile, Greg Bird, an actual rookie, was regularly hitting rockets into the right-field bleachers as part of the same group against the same pitcher.
"It's BP!," snapped a somewhat exasperated Girardi when asked to evaluate Rodriguez's performance today.
"I don't judge a lot of our players the first two weeks of games," he said. "You just don't, because they've been off of playing five or six months, and it's just something different. So you have to give them time."
Rodriguez said that his body felt good -- an effect he attributed to having had a full year to train rather than rehab -- but admitted it will take some time for him to regain his confidence.
"It's a long process," he said. "I was a little nervous out there. I'm definitely going to be nervous on opening day in spring training, Opening Day in New York. Look, this is a hard thing I'm trying to do."
And when someone mentioned that Mark Teixeira
TAMPA, Fla. -- Mark Teixeira makes a distinction between the choices and the man.
On the first day of full spring training workouts for the Yankees, Teixeira made this clarification in discussing his new/old teammate Alex Rodriguez:
“There are a lot of people who make bad decisions,” Teixeira said. “Alex is not a bad person. I’ll be the first one to tell you that. Alex has made bad decisions. He has owned up to them. Hopefully, now we can kind of get past it. That is something that if he was still denying it and coming in here and trying to put on a different face -- he told everyone he was sorry.”
When it was pointed out to Teixeira that A-Rod has said sorry before and then acted the same way, Teixeira was still ready to move on.
Teixeira's career has occurred during parts of the steroid era, but he has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. His career has been on a borderline Hall of Fame trajectory. While he earned a $180 million contract, in theory, he could be denied a place in Cooperstown because of players who juiced.
“I’ve been outspoken," Teixeira said. "I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. If you are willing to take that chance, then that is something that you have to look in the mirror. I’m not going to change anyone’s mind, so it is one of those situations, it is what it is. We all had kids in school who cheated on their tests, and we worked hard and maybe got a B and they got an A. That’s life.”
Right after A-Rod was suspended, Anthony Bosch -- the faux doctor and baseball's star witness who ran the Biogenesis clinic that Rodriguez got caught up with -- said on "60 Minutes" that nearly everyone in baseball was still doing illegal substances.
“It is better than it has ever been,” Teixeira said. “I came up in ’03 when we had some weird testing. There was testing but you could still do it. There were no penalties, whatever. There were still a lot of guys doing it. There were. The middle 2000s, late 2000s, baseball did a great job of putting things in place. You are always going to have cheaters. You are always going to have guys trying to beat the system. Whatever it is -- taxes, breaking the speed limit, whatever. So I think for us to think that no one is going to try and bend the rules, it is a little naive. I give the commissioner’s office a lot of credit. I give the players' association a lot of credit for working together to try the best we can.”
TAMPA, Fla. -- Like millions of baseball fans who see an aging, disgraced, surgically repaired ballplayer coming off a long suspension, Alex Rodriguez does not believe he can pull this off, either. You can see it in his actions. You can hear it in his words.
Remember, Rodriguez never trusted his work ethic and God-given ability to begin with, and his insecurities compelled him to use performance-enhancing drugs again and again and again. Throw in the fact that he hasn't played since September 2013, that he's staring down the barrel of his 40th birthday and that he knows the sport and his own organization would prefer it if the pariah wearing unlucky No. 13 just disappeared for keeps, and you have a man who has no idea if he can ever again hit big league heat.
"I wish it was as easy as hitting Danilo's 55 mph fastball," Rodriguez said of Danilo Valiente, his batting practice pitcher for the day. "We can all look like an All-Star at that point. We'll see what happens when you have a guy throwing 95 miles an hour."
That's Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez, a man with 654 home runs and 1,969 RBIs to his name, sounding like a high school sophomore wondering if he's good enough to make the JV. And nothing he did during his first round of infield and batting practice Thursday disabused skeptics of the notion Rodriguez will be anything but a broken-down liability with a slow bat and slower feet.
Sure, his 32 swings produced a few balls sent whistling over the George M. Steinbrenner Field walls, and his glove and arm appeared workable at third base and in some irrelevant cameos at shortstop (we promise it meant nothing, Captain Jeter, wherever you are). The safe bet still says Rodriguez has no shot of even approaching the numbers he produced during his last big season in 2010, in which he hit .270 with 30 homers and 125 RBIs in 137 games.
So are the high-rolling Red Sox the new Evil Empire?
We debate with ESPN Boston; you decide.
"I thought the ball came out of his hand very well," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "The arm speed was there. You could see he dialed it up today. He has progressed at a routine you would like him to progress at. Everything was good."
"I think I was throwing with more force than the last bullpen," said Tanaka, who has taken the mound three times so far this spring. "As far as hitting the spots, the location goes, I think it was better than the last bullpen as well.”
The Yankees are trying to ease Tanaka into the season. They are giving him a little extra time between bullpens so not to overtax that small UCL tear in his elbow. On top of that, the Yankees are planning to try a six-man rotation to protect Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda.
"I'm not sure it is just him," Rotschild said. "As part of that starting rotation, they are all going to need it. We have looked at schedules and scenarios and we'll continue to look at it as we go through spring and wee how guys react. They are probably will pitch on the fifth and sixth day throughout the spring and see how they react to that and give them the extra time."
The highlight of the day, of course, will be Alex Rodriguez's first BP session with the team -- he hit three times this week across the street at the minor-league complex -- and A-Rod will hit in the second group, along with Mark Teixeira, Brendan Ryan and rookie Jose Pirela. That will take place about 12:45 p.m. Yes, I will be there but will try to resist the temptation to live tweet.
Earlier in the morning, Masahiro Tanaka threw 40 pitches in the bullpen and pitching coach Larry Rothschild reports all went well. Andrew Marchand will have a blog up on that session shortly.
The rest of the hitting groups on the big field are as follows: Group 1, Brian McCann, Rob Refsnyder, Eddy (not Alex) Rodriguez and Nick Noonan; Group 3, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley and Garrett Jones; Group 4 is Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Cole Figueroa and Jonathan Galvez.
The outfielders, including Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Judge, who incidentally is a giant, will hit on the back field starting at 12:30.
Ellsbury chatted briefly at his locker and revealed that during his time in Boston, he was one of the few Red Sox who did not detest A-Rod. "For whatever reason, he was friendly with me," Ellsbury said. "When I was on the bases at third, when I’d get to third, he’d always say hello, how ya doing. You appreciate that as a baserunner. Jeter was the same way when you got to short. He did the same thing. Especially as a young player, you remember that kind of thing."
As a kid, Ellsbury grew up a Seattle Mariners fan rooting for -- guess who? "I'm looking forward to playing with him," he said.
While the chatter lately in Mets camp crackles with nonstop hope and excitement -- Mets ace Matt Harvey is feeling terrific and is scheduled Friday to face batters for the first time since having Tommy John surgery 16 months ago -- the plotlines in Yankees camp on the other side of Florida remain more foreboding. The playoff talk isn't just more tentative among the question-riddled Yankees. Visitors to Tampa are struck by how Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi are frankly conceding that the damaged pitching elbow of ace Masahiro Tanaka could blow out at any time.
That's a hell of a way to go into a new season, isn't it?
Every pitch could be Tanaka's last. Surgery could likely be more of a "when," not "if," thing for him because of the slight tear he's playing with.
"That's why I said last year, 'Have the surgery,'" former big league pitcher and current ESPN analyst Curt Schilling said after his visit to Yankees camp.
Tanaka didn't. Harvey did. Now, the Mets' willingness to endure some friction with their superstar -- something the Yankees, and the Knicks, for that matter, weren't as willing to do with their superstars in the past year -- has left the Mets situated to perhaps be the only playoff team among those three.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Hank Steinbrenner is looking ahead and not back when it comes to Alex Rodriguez.
Suspended last season for violations of baseball's drug agreement and labor contract, Rodriguez reported to the Yankees' spring training camp Wednesday at George Steinbrenner Field. A-Rod is trying to return as his 40th birthday approaches in July.
"Hopefully this spring he can contribute, that's the bottom line," Steinbrenner, the Yankees' co-chairman, said Wednesday. "He can hit. He's a natural. Hopefully he can still do it. We're just going take it as it goes. As far as whether he can contribute or not, we'll have to see. Hopefully he will. Hopefully he'll help the lineup."
Steinbrenner was heavily involved in the team's decision to sign Rodriguez to a record $275 million, 10-year contract in December 2007 after the three-time MVP terminated his $252 million, 10-year deal with three seasons remaining.
Rodriguez has not played a full season since then because of injuries, which led to operations on both hips, and the suspension. Rodriguez has apologized to the Yankees and to fans, but didn't go into specifics on his actions that led to the ban. Six years ago, he admitted using performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Against the back wall of the clubhouse, along the same row of lockers that houses Alex Rodriguez, sat the member of the New York Yankees who has made the biggest stand against drugs. Brett Gardner agreed to serve on the advisory board of big leaguers set up by the anti-doping advocate, Don Hooton, who fired A-Rod as his advisory board of one when Rodriguez was suspended for staging a long series of chemically-aided magic shows.
Gardner signed a pledge that included the following statements:
• I believe that using anabolic steroids and other Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drugs is illegal, dangerous to my body, and to use them as an athlete is cheating.
• I believe that the only good sport is fair sport, sport that is clean, and I therefore agree ... to abide by any and all anti-doping rules that relate to me and to baseball.
• Outside of competition, I am willing to take a stand, and to show my commitment to doping-free sport by ... thinking about fairness and ethical issues with all choices I make.
"To be honest," Gardner said Wednesday at his locker, "I'm not really passionate about a whole lot of stuff, but I am passionate about trying to play the game the right way, and this comes along with it. So it's something I've enjoyed taking part in."
Hooton's foundation is named after his son, Taylor, who committed suicide in 2003 after using anabolic steroids, and it became a lifeline for a drowning Rodriguez in 2009, after the slugger confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs. Hooton recalled by phone that he traveled with A-Rod "up and down the East Coast talking to kids about the dangers of PED use at the same time that Alex was still using them."
TAMPA, Fla. -- If you’re stuck for what to get Alex Rodriguez, the man who seemingly has everything, as a homecoming gift this season, here’s a suggestion: a first baseman’s mitt.
The guy who has a private jet, a Maybach and $61 million left on his Yankees contract is short one piece of equipment he might actually need this season.
“I don’t have a mitt,” Rodriguez said Wednesday at what has become his daily autograph session/media scrum outside the Yankees' minor league complex. “I have to tell [Yankees clubhouse attendant] Robbie Cucuzza to hurry up and order one.”
It’s official now that when the Yankees' position players arrive on Thursday to have their first full-squad workout, Alex Rodriguez will be among them.
Mark Teixeira at first base.
That was one of the topics discussed in a closed-door meeting between Rodriguez and manager Joe Girardi.
“It was a good, positive meeting,” A-Rod said. “We were just catching up, for one, seeing how his family and his winter was. Basically I told him whatever he needs, I’m all in.”
Asked if the meeting included an apology for the PED suspension that caused him to miss the entire 2014 season, Rodriguez said, “I’m going to keep our conversation private.”
Well, that part of it, anyway.
Girardi, too, refused to say whether A-Rod had apologized.
“That sort of thing, I’ll keep in between us, how that goes,” he said. “But we had a good conversation today and he’s ready to go to work.”
Rodriguez did acknowledge that Girardi had discussed with him the Yankees’ plan to have him take some grounders at first base, a position he said he has never played in his life, at any level of ball.
“It was something we already talked a little bit about via text this offseason,” Rodriguez said. “Whether Joe wants me to play first base, third base, DH, ball boy, I’m all in, whatever it takes.”
“I’m all in” may seem like an odd choice of words for a player who a few years ago was warned by Major League Baseball to stop taking part in high-stakes poker games, but it was one A-Rod used three times in a 3-minute, 10-second conversation with reporters, presumably as a way to demonstrate that he is agreeable to anything the Yankees ask of him this season.
Already, they have given away his third-base job to Chase Headley, whom A-Rod hugged on the practice field on Tuesday, and both Girardi and GM Brian Cashman have said they envision him as a right-handed DH, meaning that unless something changes, he will get most, if not all, of his at-bats this season against left-handed pitching.
Now they will ask him to try to make an adjustment that hasn’t always been easy for even the most talented big league ballplayers.
Asked how he planned to learn the position as a 40-year-old after having never played it before, Rodriguez said, “I’ve got my good buddy Tex over there. I’ll be leaning on him for some good guidance.”
Earlier in the day, Teixeira, a standout defensive first baseman, said he would be glad to tutor his teammate in the fine points of playing the position.
“I’m looking forward to working with him over there,” he said. “Alex and I have been friends for a long time now. It’s funny; I was a rookie when Alex was the best player in the world. He got to teach me some things, and now I’m going to be able to teach him some things at first.”
Rodriguez took no grounders at first base on Wednesday, only at shortstop, a position he has not played since leaving the Texas Rangers for the Yankees in 2004, and one he is not even being considered for this year with the signing of 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.
But he did take his third, and longest, batting practice session of the spring, 100 swings over nine rounds, and sent five balls over the left-field fence, not a large number by any standard.
Asked afterward what he had learned about his swing so far this week, Rodriguez answered, tersely, “Not much.”
And he completely sidestepped the question of whether he would be ready to play when the Yankees open their exhibition season against the Philadelphia Phillies on March 3.
“I mean, like I said [Tuesday], it’s going to take three or four weeks to even have an assessment,” he said.
Girardi also was noncommittal about whether Rodriguez would be ready to answer the bell for the first spring training game.
“That, I don’t know, because we’re going to probably have some intrasquads before, so I’m going to have to see how he physically is doing,” Girardi said. “[But] I don’t have any intention of holding him out of games early in camp. If he didn’t play the first one, he’d play the second one, that sort of thing.”
The first-base experiment, however, will proceed right away.
“I’ll give him a couple days just to get his feet under him a little bit and then we’ll talk about some strategic days,” Girardi said. “It might be a day that maybe he’s playing in a game and you take him over there, you work him out there, that sort of thing.”
But first, Alex Rodriguez, the man who has almost everything, needs to get his hands on a good first baseman’s mitt.
So what does hitting coach, Jeff Pentland, think they should do?
"The shift has been around a long time," Pentland said. "They are using it a lot more in almost every situation. The biggest thing is for, 'Don't let it get in your head. Don't force things.' Obviously, the ability to use the whole field is important. I'm not going to sit here and tell you, we are going to try and force things through the infield, through the shift. We still have to go up there to hit the ball. There are things that we will spend time on."
Pentland said it is all about the individual so there is not one steadfast rule for all the players. He also knows that he is going to be as good as the talent of the batters.
"I'm only a good hitting coach, if we have good players," Pentland said. "I'm not a fool."
Mo A Go: Mariano Rivera is here to help mentor. He will be in camp for the next week, according to Girardi.
"He has a free reign to help out as much as he can," Girardi said. "I think the advice that he'll give young players should be something they should listen to."
No Fear: Part of Masahiro Tanaka's recovery from elbow injury is being fearless. Girardi doesn't have any sense that Tanaka is thinking about his slightly torn ligament.
"I haven't seen him hold back," Girardi said. "I didn't see him hold back in his bullpen. I think he feels pretty good about it."
Tanaka will have his next bullpen on Thursday.
Ortiz said their friendship has not survived that controversy.
“No, dude,’’ he said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t like to talk about that. Things are not good anymore. It’s been awhile.’’
Asked his thoughts on Rodriguez’s return to baseball after serving a year-long suspension, Ortiz said: “Wish him good luck. What else can you do? It doesn’t matter how people are, how many times they f--- up, I don’t wish anyone anything bad, you know what I’m saying? I wish him the best, hopefully he’ll do well, and that’s about it.’’
Rodriguez’s lawyer at the time, Joe Tacopina, was interviewed by Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio last January and said of past PED use in the game: “I’m not going to start naming all the other players, but some of them are godlike in Boston right now, and people seem to forget that.”
In a subsequent interview, Tacopina said he was not referring to Ortiz.
Teixeira's belief in his new diet and renewed weightlifting program makes him believe that he can stay fully healthy for the first time since 2011. If he does, Teixeira thinks he can be a 30-homer and 100-RBI player again.
"I look at the last two years as hopefully more of a bump in the road," Teixeira said. "The way I feel now, I feel like a kid again. I feel like I did a few years ago when I was hitting 30-plus homers and driving in 100 RBIs, playing almost every single day.
"Thirty and 100 is kind of what I've always been and what I want to be. So if I can do that, then I know I'm helping the team out. That is the most important thing. I know if I can do that, then I know I'm helping the team out."
In 2013, wrist surgery limited Teixeira to 15 games. Last year, he played in 123 games, hitting .216 with 22 homers and 62 RBIs. He said the daily one-hour treatment made the season not "fun at all."
Two years removed from the surgery, he thinks his wrist should hold up. He last had a 30-and-100 season in 2011, when he hit 39 homers and drove in 111 runs in 156 games.
Teixeira, who turns 35 in April, hasn't played more than 123 games since that 2011 season but thinks that with his new diet he will cut down on the inflammation in his body. He said he will use the diet, which consists of no bread and a lot of buffalo meat, the rest of his playing career. He said he reconfigured his body, adding 13 pounds of muscle, while losing fat.
"I have to go all-in," Teixeira said.
As for the shift that has reduced his batting average over the years, Teixeira said his only remedy is to hit more home runs and doubles and to walk more.
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who has repeatedly mocked the New York Yankees for their spending, on Wednesday rejected a suggestion that his team has become "Yankee-like" in how it operates.
Since August, the Red Sox have spent over $300 million in new player acquisitions, assuming that the deal for 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada, who arrived here Wednesday for his physical, becomes official.
"Boy, there are a lot of things people could get me to say, but I could never admit to that," Lucchino said Wednesday morning. "I could never admit to that, not in my own mind, at least.
"We are different. We run our clubs differently. There's a commonality in our willingness to invest in sizable sums for baseball players, whether they be short-term additions or long-term development projects. So in that sense, we, the Dodgers, the Giants -- a lot of successful clubs -- are willing to pay the price and write checks."
Moncada's representative, David Hastings, confirmed Monday night that a term sheet had been signed in which the player had agreed to a $31.5 million signing bonus, which shattered the record for an international amateur signing.
Hastings said the Red Sox won out for Moncada's services over the Yankees, Dodgers and Padres.