David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TAMPA, Fla. - Fed up with the A-Rod noise? Desperate for meaningful commentary regarding the Yankees' playoff chances for the coming season?
Then we've got some great news, loyal readers.
You're almost there.
Not yet, unfortunately. It is only the first week of March. But Wednesday, when Alex Rodriguez steps into the batter's box against the Phillies, that momentous occasion will mark the beginning of the end of the speculation you've endured during the past 18 months. And it can't come soon enough.
The malpractice lawsuits, the Biogenesis skulduggery, the recent infighting over home run bonuses. That's back-burner stuff now. With Rodriguez giving the thumbs-up to playing in Grapefruit League games, we can turn our attention to whether he's able to do this anymore.
It's the $61-million question, and we're not going to require an army of deeply placed anonymous sources to provide the answer. Either A-Rod is capable of hitting major-league pitching or he isn't -- and the Yankees now have a month before Opening Day to make the determination.
"That's what we're hoping for, that he can provide some offensive punch to our lineup," Joe Girardi said. "I know it's a tall order. We know that. He's 39 1/2 years old, two hip surgeries. But I don't count anyone out."
This is what we've been waiting for. And yes, I'm talking about all of us. The A-Rod saga has put a chokehold on everything associated with the Yankees -- from the front office to the fan base -- and there's still a season to prepare for.
Rodriguez is only one player out of 25, and judging by the way he's been talking lately, the expectations couldn't be much lower. Just the other day, he mentioned the struggle he had during his time away from baseball while trying to hit against 38-year-old Freddy Garcia, who was last seen pitching for Taiwan's EDA Rhinos last season.
We'll have to take A-Rod's word on that. Otherwise, there's not much to go on -- aside from a handful of batting-practice sessions and Monday's showdown with a pitching machine in an intrasquad game that was only slightly more intense than PFP drills.
To give you an idea, the Yankees played with an orange extension cord stretched from the mound, across the third-base line -- directly in the path of runners -- and plugged into a wall socket behind home plate.
For the record, A-Rod went 0-for-2 against the machine, grounding out to third and hitting a lazy fly to right.
Afterward, he sent word through the PR staff that he wouldn't be talking to the media, and we're not going to fault him for that. A-Rod has made himself plenty available in the week since he first showed up at the Yankees' minor-league complex, passing on group interviews only twice. He's basically been a model citizen -- other than maybe tweaking team officials by not giving much of a heads-up before rolling into Tampa.
But that's just A-Rod being A-Rod. There's a bit of diva in any star that size.
"For him, he's tried to just fit in and be one of the guys, which is fairly normal for him in our clubhouse," Girardi said. "I don't see a huge difference in the way he is."
That line of questioning has reached its expiration date. It feels as if Rodriguez has been back for a while now.
There's nothing left except actually playing baseball, something that A-Rod hasn't done in a major-league setting since Sept. 25, 2013, at Yankee Stadium. It's worth noting that Rodriguez played only 44 games that season, batted .244 and was relegated to DH by nagging injuries. The previous two seasons, A-Rod slugged no higher than .461 and averaged 17 home runs and 60 RBIs, playing 221 games.
Those aren't what we think of as A-Rod numbers, but it's something we should keep in mind. Fortunately, all of this speculation is almost done. Rodriguez will provide the answers himself, at the plate, starting Wednesday at Steinbrenner Field.
We're just as anxious to get there as you are.