Commentary | A-Rod asks fans, public to withhold judgment; he needs more time

adell@bradenton.comJuly 6, 2013 

Yankees Rodriguez Baseball

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, right, talks to a teammate during the fourth inning in his second rehab baseball game with the Charleston RiverDogs, against the Rome Braves in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday, July 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

CHUCK BURTON — AP

LAKELAND

Alex Rodriguez stood in a hallway speaking to handful of reporters at Joker Marchant Stadium.

A cynic would argue the name of the Detroit Tigers' spring training facility was the appropriate venue for Rodriguez, that his life has indeed become a joke.

But it is not so easy to describe the New York Yankees' fading star.

He is victim, villain or simply a fragile human being who would go to any lengths to feed his enormous ego.

The Yankees helped, which is why they owe him $114 million over the next five years.

Rodriguez was in Lakeland on Friday as part of his rehabilitation from left hip surgery during the offseason.

His rehabilitation from himself is ongoing.

He looked every bit of his 37 years (he turns 38 on July 27) as he spoke after the Tampa Yankees' game against the Lakeland Flying Tigers was postponed.

But his words could not hide the kid that resides somewhere beneath him when he talked about the two days he spent earlier in the week playing for the Yankees' low Single-A Charleston RiverDogs.

"For me, it was just great to be under the lights again playing baseball, it's been nine months and that is a long time," Rodriguez said. "This great town of (Charleston) South Carolina felt good. There was great energy and great fans. It's pretty exciting to be out playing baseball again, which is what I love to do."

Getting energized in a minor-league park against minor-league players would seem to illuminate Rodriguez's fall from grace.

But the last time most fans saw Rodriguez he was striking out 12 times in 25 at-bats during last year's postseason and suffered the embarrassment of having someone pinch-hit for him.

The world in those small, laid-back towns is simpler. Fans there don't

scrutinize Rodriguez and celebrate more who he was than who he is.

At one time, baseball purists hoped Rodriguez was going to clean up the record books when he passed Barry Bonds' chemically induced career home run record.

But then Rodriguez admitted he used performance enhancers and is again under scrutiny for possibly using more in an ongoing investigation by Major League Baseball that could end his career or stain it badly.

Ironically, Rodriguez will be on Florida's east coast Saturday playing against the Brevard County Manatees. It might put him closer to Yankee Stadium. But it also puts him within shouting distance of Miami, where Major League Baseball is looking into his dealings with the Biogenesis Clinic, which reports say supplied him with performance-enhancing drugs.

Rodriguez said on the advice of his lawyers he can't talk about the investigation. He didn't say it's easier to talk about his rehab, but it was obvious.

"No matter what kind of shape you are in, baseball shape is completely different," Rodriguez said. "I don't care how hard you work in the offseason, when you get in cleats and spring training you have soreness you never felt before. Baseball is an endurance game. It's an everyday game. You've got to get your legs under you and make sure you are ready for the long haul."

There may not be a long haul for Rodriguez if the Biogenesis suspicions prove true. Then again, there might not be much left in his body to make a difference, anymore despite all the troubles the Yankees are having at third base this season.

Rodriguez says no one should put a stopwatch on his recovery, that he needs time.

"I told the guys there (Charleston) it's going to take me a half dozen to 10 games to at least get better feedback of how things are going, but so far so good," Rodriguez said. "I've had four at-bats in nine months. I would like to get 25 at-bats before I even start thinking about timing. It's good to be able to see the ball and put the ball in play."

Rodriguez said he had a productive day and was ready to move on, making sure to note he would contact the Yankee front office first.

"We made the most of today. We had six simulated at-bats (in the cage) and did some good work," he said. "We all want to rush to get back as soon as we can. Nothing bothers me. Everything is good so far. We work on everything. It's been a long time. The lateral movement and the explosion at the plate are the things I want to look at more than the timing."

The question remains: How much time does Rodriguez have to keep playing the game that has brought him happiness and riches, and of late so much anxiety?

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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