2009 Will Be a Crucible For Alex Rodriguez:....How Will He Handle It?

Erik DianaCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2008

Attention: Either Alex Rodriguez is out fawning for attention again or is just letting his insecurity bubble over again.

2009 does not appear to be starting off on the right track for A-Rod.

Warning: The World Baseball Classic may have unnecessary coverage of Alex Rodriguez upstaging another signature event in baseball. So brace yourself.

A-Rod appears to want to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic at the start of the 2009 season. So, one year he's American (after much deliberation) and now he's Dominican.

Rodriguez has shown over the years he just can't get out of his own way, especially when it comes to dealing himself in matters of his public image. Remember when he upstaged the World Series by opting out right before the end of Game 4?

Are we really going to have to go through this song and dance routine again? And yes, I know it's his right to play for either team, but this just seems disingenuous. It may also show that he is uncomfortable once again with a very minor matter. 

If Alex is going to keep struggling with minor matters, how is he going to be able to focus on what really matters? A-Rod will need more than a clear mind if he's going to succeed against Papelbon in the 9th inning at Fenway. He's going to need self confidence and clarity!

Most players can separate their personal lives from their professional ones, but Alex has not been able to show this to be the case for him. It's an honest question.

One of the reasons that 2007 was such an unbelievable year for A-Rod was it looked like he just didn't care what people thought of him anymore. He didn't worry about things beyond his control.

He didn't care that what people knew was obvious: He and Derek Jeter weren't best friends anymore. He didn't care that he got spotted in Toronto with a blonde bimbo outside a strip club.

He appeared to be gaining temerity and callousness. Needless to say, both are a winning combination to succeed in New York.

Hopefully, the 2009 season brings more of that back to the surface. Odd years recently have been a launch pad for A-Rod. He won the MVP in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

What's so maddening about A-Rod is the fact that he has the most security in the game, and has had it for quite some time. He bilked the Yankees into a 10-year, $275 million deal last winter. And this was after he opted out of his record-setting deal of 10 years and $252 million. That's security!

But A-Rod's insecurities came to light fast. His insecurities are due to the fact that he plays in New York and he hasn't been fortunate enough to win a championship. And until he does, he's going to continue to be the main target for the press and fans.

Let's imagine for one second that Mariano Rivera converted the save in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS and the Yankees won their 27th World Series championship.

If that had happened, A-Rod would be untouchable. He, Hideki Matsui, or Rivera could have won ALCS MVP. Because A-Rod is so talented, his potential to be revered in New York is almost unfathomable. He could have rocketed into the stratosphere of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Jeter.

And for the record, Derek Jeter will never face the type of pressure that A-Rod will. As team captain and Mr. November, he is absolved all wrongdoing because he's played on four championship teams and has so many amazing moments in the playoffs.

If A-Rod wants to succeed and win the ultimate prize he covets in New York, he needs peace of mind to get there. I don't know if people realize this, but 2009 is going to be A-Rod's most pressure-packed year.

The Yankees probably won't bring back Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi. Robinson Cano was a rotting corpse at the plate last year. Jeter and Johnny Damon will be a year older and more susceptible to injury. Abreu won't be in front of A-Rod to soak up pitches and work counts. The Yankees' offense is going to rely on A-Rod more then ever.

And A-Rod left a lot of ducks on the pond last year. And he really didn't have one signature at-bat like he did in 2007, either.

The Yankees stupidly didn't offer Abreu arbitration. Even if they didn't want to bring him back, Abreu and Andy Pettitte could have netted two picks as compensation each.

One-year deals aren't that bad of an investment right now in the baseball world. And if and when they sign CC Sabathia, they'll lose two draft picks for him. If they sign Derek Lowe or AJ Burnett, they'll lose even more picks.

Brian Cashman looks like he screwed the pooch again. How can you build your team through the draft when you can't even sign your first two picks for 2008? And you're already sacrificing your potential 2009 picks. This is why Boston's Theo Epstein is such a better GM.

And no, the thought of Nick Swisher, Cano and Matsui in the lineup everyday does not pump me up. (The Yankees could use Manny Ramirez now more than ever. But I digress.)

If A-Rod slumps mentally with the opening of the new Yankee Stadium, he'll be able to taste the pressure for breakfast every day. If there is an injury in the lineup, A-Rod will be called to pick up the slack. If the Yankees' pitching has a horrible game and A-Rod has a chance to tie in the eighth on one swing, he will be expected to do so.

If Edwar Ramirez serves up a gopher ball or walks runs home (both are specialties of his) A-Rod will be booed if he fails to drive in a run in his next at-bat.

Let's not forget either that CC could have a hard first year in New York. Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Coke could all struggle next year, as many young players do.

And if A-Rod struggles at the plate or is injured, one thing will come to mind. It'll be the salary figure and years that A-Rod and the Yankees are handcuffed together.

For all we know, A-Rod could be fine. He's not going to have to deal with his divorce being splashed across the tabloids like before. Maybe Madonna can help his psyche out. A-Rod is arguably the hardest worker in the game and he will work his rear end off to succeed.

Yankees fans everywhere should pray that the Yankees can pick someone up like Mark Teixeira or Manny Ramirez who can help A-Rod out in his journey. I know it's a different sport, but John Elway never won a title without Terrell Davis. And think about it: Dan Marino never received help like that.

But maybe this is exactly the story that needs to be written about A-Rod. I know I'm not the only one that thinks that if the Yankees get into the playoffs, and he figures out what he's lacked in New York, we could see something we tell our grandchildren about!

That's the type of player Alex Rodriguez is. He's a once-in-a-generation talent. And I hope he figures it out and gets the help that he needs along the way. Because with the path the Yankees are heading, he's going to need it!



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