David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
BALTIMORE - The one person who could have told us exactly what Alex Rodriguez is thinking and feeling about his return to the Yankees passed on the opportunity Saturday in Tampa.
Was he truly ready to play in rehab games? Is he really skeptical about coming back this season? How is the surgically repaired hip holding up?
Before those questions could be asked, however, Rodriguez closed his car window on the reporters he pledged to talk to. The length of the session: 101 seconds. Meaningful answers delivered: zero.
"So far, no issues," Rodriguez said. "I just can't wait to get back on the field to help my team win."
No issues, huh? The Yankees would disagree. A-Rod's rehab used to be about getting in shape to return to the majors. Now it's become a steel-cage match for the public-relations high ground as team officials and Rodriguez associates try to put their own spin on the process.
It's really a pointless exercise. Whether Rodriguez is capable of playing major-league baseball again will be decided on the field, in real games, in plain view. The he-said/they-said drama going on now is just another A-Rod sideshow, something for us to kill time with as we wait.
And there's a chance the wait won't be for too much longer. As of Saturday night, the Yankees hadn't set a date for A-Rod's first rehab game, but a team official said he is getting closer. He didn't specify just how close.
The cloak-and-dagger routine is getting old, especially for a Yankees team that could use Rodriguez. Desperately. Which is why it makes sense that Rodriguez, according to a source, told Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine that he was "unsure" about coming back this season during Wednesday's three-way conference call.
That would explain the hesitation, and judging by A-Rod's level of activity, it seems there are a few more hurdles to clear. Rodriguez was limited to indoor batting practice Saturday at Steinbrenner Field because of rain, but the previous day at the complex, he took part in simulated game activity. One indication of a cautionary approach: Rodriguez is practicing his slides on a mat in the outfield.
As for the back-and-forth with the Yankees on his state of readiness, Rodriguez could have cleared things up by telling reporters just what he told team officials on that conference call. But A-Rod shifted his Maybach into drive and pulled away before that question was pitched.
Maybe it's just as well. With so much posturing, the truth probably is somewhere in the middle, and the only thing that matters now is the date of Rodriguez's first rehab game.
And after getting abused by his general manager earlier in the week for his Twitter/Instagram follies, Rodriguez doesn't seem to have an appetite for that anymore. Could be that Hal Steinbrenner's "professional" chat with Rodriguez in the Tampa weight room set him straight. For the time being.
"I'm feeling pretty darn good," Rodriguez said.
If he's to be believed, A-Rod doesn't sound as though he plans on retiring anytime soon. There's always the possibility that he will be taken off the Yankees' hands by a 100-game suspension for his alleged involvement in the Biogenesis scandal; MLB has yet to complete its investigation. Short of that, however, there won't be a quick resolution to Rodriguez's comeback attempt.
As soon as A-Rod suits up for Class A Tampa, the rehab clock starts, which means he'll be scheduled to rejoin the Yankees in a maximum of 20 days. Joe Girardi said Saturday he expects Rodriguez to need the full allotment of games to get up to speed. A-Rod hasn't played since Game 4 of last year's ALCS loss to the Tigers.
While everyone remains distracted by the $103 million still owed to Rodriguez through 2017, the fate of that money -- and what role the Yankees' insurance policy will play -- should not be an immediate concern. As Rodriguez likes to say, this is about taking "small bites" right now.
The only way these questions will be answered is on the baseball field, and by Rodriguez himself. Whatever else is said before then is an educated guess. Entertaining, but mostly just the usual noise that has followed A-Rod since he first arrived in New York.