At least for a little while.
Booed and taunted by opposing fans in the Yankees' spring training opener, Rodriguez homered and drew two walks Wednesday in a 6-1 exhibition victory over Toronto that was anything but routine.
It was his first game since admitting he took performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-03 with Texas. He left after drawing a walk in the fifth inning, then signed autographs for five minutes before calling it a day.
"This is what I do. I know how to play baseball," Rodriguez said. "I just hope that the start of something really special for this year. I feel really good about our team."
There were lots of cheers for the three-time AL MVP, a smattering of boos and occasional catcalls from the crowd of 5,014 at mostly filled Dunedin Stadium.
The New York third baseman walked on five pitches in the first inning. Many in the crowd stood and cheered as he circled the bases after hitting a tiebreaking, two-run homer off Ricky Romero in the fourth.
"It was just a fastball I left up and he's a great hitter," Romero said. "He's going to hit mistakes and I made a mistake. I was just trying to be aggressive."
By the third time Rodriguez went to the plate, hecklers who earlier shouted "Hey, A-Rod. Where's your cousin?" and "Madonna" were drowned out by applause.
"When you're playing, it's hard to focus on standing ovations or boos. You're just trying to go out there and do your job," Rodriguez said. "Again, I didn't see anything that was bad at all."
The slugger had dinner Tuesday night with former Yankees star Reggie Jackson, now a special adviser with the team.
"I told him to hit the baseball. It's really an old story. It never really changes," Jackson said. "Hit the baseball, and hit it like heck. That's really about all that really matters."
The Hall of Famer also passed some words from Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner.
"He said, 'You deliver this message: Just tell him hit the damn ball and hit it when it counts. That's really the most important thing that he can do. All the other conversations, they don't matter. The more you talk, the more you have an opportunity to make a mistake.'"
Rodriguez had said he was prepared for whatever reception he received. He high-fived teammate Robinson Cano as he crossed the plate after his homer, and received more cheers when he trotted up the left-field line to the clubhouse.
"Maybe I'm just so used to it," the 33-year-old Rodriguez said of the reception. "It's been a decade for me, going at it. I just felt really relaxed. This is what I get paid to do. It feels good."
Earlier, manager Joe Girardi talked to Rodriguez during the short ride on the team bus from Tampa to Dunedin, where Yankees fans arrived early and gave A-Rod a polite reception. There were some boos mixed with cheers during pregame introductions and again when he strolled to the plate for the first time.
"We weren't quite sure what it would be like today. It was a mixture of both," Girardi said. "We talked a little bit about today. Told him, we're with you the whole way. We're going to be here no matter what happens. I can't pretend to know what's like to be in Alex's shoes."
The second-year manager said it's difficult to predict if the crowd becoming more supportive with each at bat is an indication of what A-Rod can expect as the year progresses.
"Because of who he is, you don't what it's going to be like everywhere we go," Girardi said.
"I'm sure some places will be easier than others. Some will be harsher than others. When it's 40-, 50,000 fans, the volume is probably going to be a little bit louder one way or the other. I thought the fans were good here. I didn't hear any nasty comments, which I think is important. Kids are in the stands."
Rodriguez is expected to be in the lineup again Thursday, when the Yankees play their first home exhibition against Tampa Bay.
"I really don't think it's a big deal at all for me. I'm just excited to be playing baseball," Rodriguez said. "Everything else is confusing, but baseball is what I do best. It's what I get paid to do. I'm just happy to be doing it again.
Notes:@ Girardi plans to have RHP Joba Chamberlain make about 30 starts. Girardi set his likely rotation as CC Sabathia on opening day at Baltimore on April 6, to be followed by Chien-Ming Wang, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Chamberlain. The rotation appears to give Girardi a choice between Chamberlain and Sabathia for the first game at the new Yankee Stadium on April 16. ... RHPs Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez are staying with the Yankees rather than pitch for the Dominican Republic in the WBC. ... CF Melky Cabrera switched his uniform number from 28 to 53. Brett Tomko is now wearing No. 28 instead of 53. Bobby Abreu, now with the Los Angeles Angels, wore 53 last year. ... Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (right shoulder) is expected to throw off a bullpen mound for the first time next week, while DH Hideki Matsui (knee surgery) could ready to play in games next week. Both should be ready for opening day.
© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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