TAMPA, Fla. - For Alex Rodriguez, who declared himself a clean player, it's full steam toward 2015. What that means for him and the Yankees is anyone's guess.
A-Rod reported for spring training Monday morning, catching many -- including the Yankees -- by surprise.
After a physical that was overseen by Yankees physician Christopher Ahmad, whom A-Rod once sued, the 39-year-old headed to the club's minor-league complex to work out.
Rodriguez, wearing Yankees shorts and a T-shirt, was on the field for about an hour. He fielded grounders, including some at shortstop, and took batting practice, hitting six homers in 71 swings. Then, wearing a University of Miami sweatsuit, he signed a slew of autographs for a line of fans outside the complex before speaking with reporters for about 10 minutes.
A-Rod, returning to baseball after a one-season suspension for PED use and his involvement with Biogenesis, struck a contrite tone similar to the one in the handwritten apology he released last week.
When asked what he might have done differently in recent years, he said, "We don't have enough time for that. There was plenty of mistakes along the way. I cringe sometimes when I look at some of the things I did. But I've paid my penalty and I'm grateful that I have another opportunity."
Asked directly if he currently is using PEDs, Rodriguez said: "No."
He did not get into the specifics of what caused the suspension. "I've paid my penalty," he said. "I'm moving on and focusing on 2015. Everybody in the league and in the commissioner's office, everyone said it's behind us, and I am, too."
Before he accepted the suspension, Rodriguez filed a slew of lawsuits against the Yankees' team doctor, Major League Baseball and the Players Association. The legal scorched-earth approach hasn't been forgotten by the Yankees, who would prefer to rid themselves of A-Rod if they didn't owe him $61 million over the next three years.
They have made clear their intent not to pay Rodriguez any of the $6-million bonuses that are a part of his contract for reaching certain home run plateaus. He is six homers behind Willie Mays, third all-time with 660.
Asked if he believes the Yankees are on his side, A-Rod said, "I don't know. You've got to ask them. But I've created a big headache for a lot of people, so I don't blame whoever is mad at me."
Rodriguez has told confidants that he wants to compete for the everyday third-base job, which belongs to Chase Headley, signed to a four-year, $52-million deal during the offseason.
Rodriguez on Monday said his sole focus is on winning "one spot" on the 25-man roster, whatever that may be.
As of now, the Yankees' plan is for A-Rod to compete for at-bats at designated hitter and, perhaps, to take ground balls at first base. He is open to the possibility of playing there if Joe Girardi needs him but pointed out, "I haven't taken any [grounders] there in my life."
Although he said, "I'm confident that if I stay healthy, I can do some good things," Rodriguez also seemed aware of the obstacles. He is playing on surgically repaired hips and will turn 40 in late July. Even before the suspension, he exhibited signs of breaking down, with stints on the disabled list each season from 2008-13 dotting his resume.
"I don't know," he said of his body being ready for the day-to-day grind of spring training and the season. "We'll see."
Girardi, who did not speak with A-Rod on Monday because he was busy with pitchers and catchers, said he isn't worried about the distraction issue. "I think the only way it becomes a distraction is if we allow it to . . . where our work [is] not our No. 1 priority."
Surveying his office, which had about 90-percent fewer reporters than usual (most were across the street staking out Rodriguez), Girardi joked: "[He's] already making my life easier."
Girardi said it is up to A-Rod whether he wants to personally apologize to him and / or the club after position players report Wednesday. Rodriguez said he has no plans to hold a team meeting to do so.
"I have a lot of good relationships in there," he said. "I think there's a system in place. I made mistakes, paid the price -- professionally and personally -- and I've stayed in touch with a lot of [my teammates]. I feel welcome back and I'm grateful for that."