K-Rod has new outlook on life, not mound

Pitcher Francisco Rodriguez talks to reporters in Port

Pitcher Francisco Rodriguez talks to reporters in Port St. Lucie. (Feb. 16, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Francisco Rodriguez, last seen exiting a Queens courthouse, returned to the Mets in a white Lamborghini, which rolled into the players' parking lot around 8:20 Wednesday morning.

When the gull-wing doors flapped open, K-Rod stepped out and smiled for the waiting cameras, apparently eager to begin his image makeover. Only time will tell if Rodriguez truly has changed, but on his first day back, the Mets' troubled closer sounded ready to repair his fractured relationship with the team and its fan base.

Rodriguez avoided jail time after pleading guilty in December to assault charges that stemmed from punching his girlfriend's father in the face - in the family room at Citi Field last September. But after nearly three months of anger management therapy, Rodriguez is focused on moving forward from an incident he said he "regrets one thousand percent."

"I've been seeing things that before I didn't realize," Rodriguez said. "One second, one decision can change pretty much your whole life, and it already happened to me in a bad way. When you have had success, things going your way, you're not thinking about the opposite.

"When that happened to me it made me open my eyes, made me realize that I'm not doing things the right way. So I've just got to correct what I was doing wrong, trying to become a better father, better boyfriend, better in everything. It made me grow up a lot."

Even so, it did not come without great cost - both emotional and financial. Rodriguez, 29, did not reconcile with his girlfriend, who is the mother of his two children, and is facing a civil suit from both her and her father.

The closer also was docked $3.14 million by the Mets because of season-ending surgery to repair a thumb ligament - an injury caused by the same punch. Rodriguez, however, refused to dwell on the lost money.

"It didn't hurt at all," he said. "I always say money's not everything in life. That's not the principle that I learned from my grandfather and my grandmother. I can't care less about money. To me, money's not the whole thing. If mentally you're not fresh or you're not happy with what you're doing, I don't think money can solve anything."

Rodriguez was seen joking around with teammates most of Wednesday morning - he got a hug from David Wright - and later he talked with manager Terry Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson.

"Closers are a different breed," Collins said. "They put things behind them. Frankie's going to have to deal with what happened last year. He's ready for it, he's moved forward, he wants to create a new beginning.

"As I told him [Wednesday] morning, guess what? You've got a brand-new general manager, you've got a new manager. Things are different. This is a new beginning for you, so let's start fresh."

Rodriguez apologized to his teammates and made a public statement to the media before leaving the Mets last September. Five months later, the team is ready for a clean slate with K-Rod as well.

"I think he put that in the past," said Jose Reyes, whose family witnessed K-Rod's postgame altercation that night. "He's going to do his job. He's ready. He can't wait to go. He's going to do what he does best - close the games for us."

In that sense, Rodriguez claimed he won't be any different. As soon as the bullpen doors open, the kinder, gentler Rodriguez will be transformed back into the volatile K-Rod. He believes that persona must still exist for him to be successful.

"On the mound it's going to be the same," Rodriguez said. "It's going to be the same attitude, the same cockiness and arrogance. I don't think it's going to be changed at all."

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