New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez is heading into the 2016 season with a renewed love for baseball after enjoying a resurgent 2015 campaign that moved him within striking distance of team legend Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list.
Kevin Kernan of the New York Post spoke with the polarizing superstar about a variety of topics this week with spring training now less than a month away. A-Rod called his pursuit of Ruth "overwhelming" and said he never dreamed about making such an impact on the game.
"When you start playing baseball at nine years old, you never think about tying anybody, let alone a guy like Babe Ruth," he said.
It's a chase that seemed likely to fall well short after Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 season for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Add in the fact that he managed just 41 homers over the previous three seasons combined, and his odds of catching Ruth decreased considerably.
Yet Rodriguez enjoyed a return to form last year with 33 homers, which marked his most productive power output since 2008. The 40-year-old star told Kernan he attributed that success to finding the childlike enthusiasm for the sport once again.
"It was reconnecting with the game, reconnecting with the clubhouse," Rodriguez said. "I love the clubhouse. What I found is how much fun the game is and last year I had a lot of fun."
So now Ruth, who sits fourth on the all-time homer list behind Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron, is once again within reach. Ruth finished his career with 714 homers, and Rodriguez enters the season with 687; he'll need 28 to pass the Bambino.
All told, he's ready for the season to get underway and is optimistic about the team the Yankees front office has assembled.
"We have a really good clubhouse, and that's something that you don't take for granted," Rodriguez told the New York Post. "I thought it was a special group, I like our collection of young and veteran players."
His return to his hard-hitting ways was one of the major reasons the New York offense ranked second in baseball in runs last season. The team will definitely be leaning heavily on him to carry the offensive load again in 2016.
The Yankees didn't place much emphasis on celebrating when Rodriguez passed Willie Mays' 660 career homers last season. It will be interesting to see how they handle the situation should he make a serious charge toward Ruth.
Of course, that would mean he's nearing 30 home runs for the season, which would be a good sign for the Yankees as a whole.