54° Good Morning
54° Good Morning

Alex Rodriguez not a distraction in spring training

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez greets his teammates

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez greets his teammates before a spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. on March 3, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. -- The "circus" and "distraction" Alex Rodriguez was supposed to bring to Yankees camp never materialized. Which isn't surprising.

"I feel like it's a bigger reaction from you guys," CC Sabathia said to reporters after A-Rod returned to the club after a season-long suspension in 2014 because of his involvement with Biogenesis. "For us, he's coming back to the team. He served his suspension and it's pretty much over."

While the media likes to make its enlarged presence a story in instances like these, the reality is players pay little attention to it.

Players on and off the record gave the same response: The focus is between the lines and preparing for the season. If your focus gets disrupted by a few more reporters in the clubhouse, you probably won't succeed at this level anyway.

"One of the things that I learned in 1996 when I came here was this is a different place," Joe Girardi said of the "distraction" issue during his spring training kickoff news conference. "It's different when you put on a New York Yankee uniform. You are with one of the most recognizable companies in the world. And with that comes a lot of media coverage, a lot of questions that you have to answer. But that's part of the gig here.

"The one thing that's going to happen for the new players that are here and aren't used to this, they're going to get it right away. They're going to get baptized very quickly."

Girardi later said: "As far as it being a distraction, if you're with the New York Yankees, you need to learn to deal with situations like this because it's going to happen."

As for Rodriguez, he did a brilliant job of handling the media and staying on message.

Once he made it clear upon reporting to camp that he had no interest -- and, really, nothing to gain -- in providing a window into his soul regarding what he termed his past "mistakes," the media for the most part stopped asking about them.

And so it became solely about baseball and his health, the latter of which held up pretty well.

Rodriguez, 39, consistently answered those questions with a mixture of occasional insight and humor. But with the same rarely wavering message, which essentially has been an exercise in low bar-setting.

"Look, this is a hard thing I'm trying to do," A-Rod said Feb. 26 after the club's first full-squad workout.

After a batting-practice session in which he hit the ball well, Rodriguez didn't bite.

"You can all look pretty tough and pretty good with BP," he said. "It doesn't mean anything. Let's see what happens when somebody's throwing 95."

After an impressive 4-for-9 start to spring training, A-Rod shrugged.

"Nothing," he said of its meaning. "Zero. 0-for-9, 4-for-9, doesn't mean anything."

The most common observation from scouts regarding Rodriguez at the plate has been "slow," with one saying it looked as if he were swinging "a weighted bat."

But one veteran National League talent evaluator, taking into account that many of A-Rod's at-bats could come as a DH against lefty starters, said not to count him out.

"When you consider the entire situation, I think he's going to be fine," the scout said.

The field could be a different matter, where A-Rod set the bar even lower for himself than at the plate. After his first start at third, March 8 against the Nationals, he said: "I wouldn't expect too much movement. My expectation is if a ball's hit to me, catch it and throw to first. It's not going to be an Ozzie Smith year."

After his second start there, March 14 in Dunedin against the Braves, he put it this way: "I would say I'm moving as good as you're going to see me move. The days of speed are behind me."

Indeed, both his and Girardi's primary focus from the start of spring training has been at-bats and plenty of them. They know that if Rodriguez has anything left and is going to help the Yankees this season, it's going to be primarily from the batter's box.

And, self-deprecation aside, Rodriguez is a world-class athlete and wouldn't be that if not for some degree of confidence.

"You know me, I try to study everything," he said, pressed on what kind of expectations he has set for himself. "I've looked at guys like [Michael] Jordan and other guys that have played well [at an older age]. I know Jordan played all 82 games of basketball I think at age 40. So I think in this day and age, anything's possible."

New York Sports