Officially, Alex Rodriguez is more than one week into his return. Unofficially, we have learned nothing.
Rodriguez returned to New York Yankees spring training camp—and Major League Baseball—last week after a yearlong suspension stemming from his involvement with Biogenesis. He has been in camp for about two weeks, but Yankees position players did not have to officially report until Feb. 25.
Since making his way to the team’s complex in Tampa, Florida, A-Rod has angered the brass by not telling them he was arriving at camp, acknowledged his use of performance-enhancing drugs, skillfully danced around other questions, played in a couple of games and shown no clear signs if he will truly be able to contribute to the team’s lineup this season.
None of this is really news.
Just about everything A-Rod does is backpage fodder in New York. A hoard of reporters documents his every movement, what he eats for breakfast and lunch, how many practice swings he takes in the on-deck circle and how long he stands in a parking lot and answers questions. Oh, and of course, his wardrobe—a University of Miami track suit on Day 1, if you were wondering.
But what have we learned that is actually newsworthy over the last dozen days?
For starters, Rodriguez’s acknowledgement of playing the game dirty was not his first. And he has clearly been well-coached on how to field related questions, which is why his answers were not a surprise, but they were better than a “no comment.”
Rodriguez was asked on his second day in camp about playing without a PED boost, and he managed to take on the question as much as one can while also ducking it.
“I think I'm fine, yeah,” Rodriguez told reporters. “But only time will tell.”
What his time in Tampa will not tell, though, is if he is ready for regular-season major league at-bats. This is a man who looked beat the last time we saw him in a batter’s box, and then he took a full year off, plus he’s had two hip surgeries and will hit 40 this summer. So unless he is completely overmatched during the Grapefruit League, it won’t be possible to make an accurate judgment.
However, looking at Rodriguez’s first spring training game Wednesday, pre and postgame, there were some interesting comments from the once-surefire Hall of Famer.
The first came prior to that game, and was the kind of admission A-Rod usually does not lay out.
“I’ll be a little nervous,” Rodriguez said about being back on the field. “I haven't been in front of my—our—fans, for a long time. I'm excited about that. I have some challenges ahead.”
A new, more humble Rodriguez then went out and tallied a single and a walk in that first spring training game as the Yankees' designated hitter. Afterward, there was another snippet that no one is used to coming from such a once-confident hitter.
“I was happy I just made contact,” Rodriguez said. “I was pleasantly surprised it was a base hit.”
This is not the A-Rod we have come to know and love/loathe, this one with the humbleness, meekness and modesty. And if we ever happened to hear it in the past, we all knew he was saying it to portray himself as an everyday man of the people, which he most certainly was not.
But this time felt more genuine, as if Rodriguez actually were surprised he singled in a spring training game.
A-Rod from even two years ago would not have been “pleasantly surprised” about anything he achieved on a baseball diamond. But now, a routine spring training base hit registers as such.
So, if we learned anything over Rodriguez’s first 12 days at Yankees camp, it is that he is just as curious as all of us to find out how he matches up with other major leaguers at this point in his career.
He understands where he was before the suspension, more than any analyst or player or coach, and that he is older now and with a season missed recently behind him. He knows he is no longer the greatest hitter ever to play the sport and that it’s not going to come flooding back to him. Ever.
And this is really all we could have learned in this short time. Rodriguez was either going to come back cocky and defiant, or he was going to be humble. With some advice from his PR people, undoubtedly, Rodriguez made the right decision this time.
There is still about a month to go in this camp. We will wait and see if this Rodriguez sticks around, and if we can ever glean anything from how he performs while knowing he is a mere mortal.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.