TAMPA, Fla. - And so it begins for Alex Rodriguez.
Ever since he admitted this month that he used illegal performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-03, Rodri guez has been preparing for the season in the safe haven of the Yankees' complex. Fans here mostly have cheered and voiced their support for him.
That all will change today at the Yankees' exhibition opener in Dunedin against the Blue Jays. Let's just say the crowd reaction should be a tad different.
So, what does he anticipate?
"I don't know," Rodriguez said yesterday after the Yankees' workout. "I've had good practice the last eight years, so I'm just excited to be playing baseball."
Asked if he expects to be booed, he said: "No expectations. I'm just hoping to get three good at-bats, get some good running in, go home and have a nice dinner."
But it's never that simple when it comes to Rodriguez, and Joe Girardi has no idea what type of reception the fans will give the controversial slugger.
"It'll be curious, I'm sure," Girardi said. "It's something we haven't been through before. I'm sure there are going to be some people that are upset. I'm sure there are going to be people that are supportive. And there are going to be some people in between. For Alex, again, he's going to have to block out distractions and be able to play. And I expect him to be able to do that. But we're going to see how it goes."
There's another potential distraction looming, though. A source told Newsday on Monday that Major League Baseball's investigations team plans to meet with Rodriguez by Friday to discuss his steroid confessions. He said he has "no idea" when the meeting will occur and that he hasn't been contacted.
Rodriguez will leave soon for Jupiter, Fla., to work out with Team Dominican Republic. Asked if he considered skipping the World Baseball Classic, he said: "I'm just focusing on tomorrow's game, take it one day at time, and on Sunday head to Jupiter, spend four or five days there and go down to Puerto Rico."
By the time he gets to San Juan, Rodriguez will have had his first taste of what it will be like to play on the road. He said he's learned to tune the fans out, but they could be relentless now.
"I think it's an initial step on how he's going to handle it," Girardi said. "Alex is a very popular player, and in road cities, he's not so popular. I really don't know what to expect. I'd imagine, as I said, there are going to be some people that are going to be angry. And we understand that. And we all have to get through that."