Alex Rodriguez will turn 41 this summer, but it appears he will enter Yankees camp with a spring in his step and the enthusiasm of a rookie.
He has spent the winter working out, spending time with his two daughters and “trying to get this old body ready to go again,’’ he said by phone from Miami yesterday. “I’ve only been 40 once, but it is new territory. I embrace it. One thing about this game, it has a funny way of humbling you and it’s such a difficult game to play every day. It’s so much of a better game today than when I first came in 1994. The young talent is as good as I’ve ever seen it.’’
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Rodriguez, who will begin his 22nd major- league season in April, wants to be part of it all for the remainder of the final two years on his contract. He believes he won’t have to decide when it’s over. “The end,’’ he said, “has a funny way of tapping you on the shoulder when you least expect it.’’DataA-Rod's career home runsDataMLB drug suspensions database
This spring will not carry the emotional burden Rodriguez must have felt a year ago after returning from a season-long performance-enhancing drug suspension in 2014.
“I’m grateful for the way the commissioner welcomed me back,’’ he said of Rob Manfred. “Obviously the [Yankees’] management and ownership group was incredibly gracious. It was great to be back in the clubhouse with my teammates and the fans were just incredible to me . . . It was fun just focusing on baseball and no distractions. For me, it was actually a lot of fun being the old man in the room.’’
He made himself available to young players such as shortstop Didi Gregorius, who had a good year after experiencing early-season struggles.
“I just think it’s important to be available for the younger guys,’’ Rodriguez said. “Carlos [Beltran] is terrific with young hitters. We’re the two seniors in the room along with [Mark Teixeira]. It’s important for players to help each other out.
“I know that when I came up [at age 18 in 1994, several Mariners, including Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez, helped me]. Now it’s our opportunity to pay it forward a little bit.’’
The Yankees put an exclamation point on his season when they honored him for reaching 3,000 career hits. “That’s one of the best days in my career,’’ he said, “because I got on the field with my mother and my two daughters, and that’s the first time that’s ever happened.”
He added: “That’s a day I’ll never forget.’’
Rodriguez hit 33 home runs, drove in 86 runs and had a .250/.356/.486 slash line in 151 games. “I came in with no expectations and it served me well,’’ he said. “So I plan to keep the same attitude this year and obviously make no predictions about how this year will turn out. That’s for sure. I really enjoyed the game. I had a lot of fun in the good times and in the struggles. I appreciate it a lot.’’
With 687 home runs, he is within striking distance of Babe Ruth (714) for third place on the all-time list behind Hank Aaron (755) and Barry Bonds (762).
Rodriguez will take on the challenge of eclipsing Ruth’s numbers, but he won’t put himself in the same echelon as the legendary Yankee.
“When I first grew up, I thought about Babe Ruth, I thought Jackie Robinson, I thought about Roberto Clemente,’’ Rodriguez said. “Those are all like iconic names that you just kind of dream about. No matter what the numbers say, there is no comparison. There is only one Babe Ruth.’’
Rodriguez worked out under Bonds before the start of last season, and Bonds said last April that Rodriguez told him he would surpass him.
“We always like to joke around,’’ Rodriguez said. “I wouldn’t look too much into that.’’