PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - When the two ran into each other at Steinbrenner Field last week, Joe Torre had a message for Alex Rodriguez about how to make it back into New York's good graces.
"Play baseball," Torre said. "The first thing I said to Alex: 'It's baseball. Just play.' "
As Torre spoke at Tradition Field before Sunday's Yankees-Mets exhibition game, Rodriguez was playing a kind of baseball 160 miles away. He and Carlos Beltran stayed behind in Tampa and played in separate minor-league exhibition games.
Rodriguez went 2-for-5 for Double-A Trenton and Beltran was 2-for-4 with a double and walk for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The two will face minor-leaguers again Monday while the Yankees play the Nationals in Viera.
Torre said Rodriguez reached out via text message to him in September after his brother Frank died. They also have communicated since Rodriguez's season-long suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal ended after the World Series. But this apparently was their first face-to-face. According to Torre, it turned into a heart-to-heart.
"Obviously, what Alex did was wrong," Torre said. "He admits that. There's nothing left for him to do but play baseball. As far as I know, that's all that's left to do. See what happens. We can talk all we want, but that's what we have to do.
"I think there's a curiosity. There's probably a curiosity on his part. It's not the normal situation where you leave baseball and you come back at that age . Of course, Alex is probably in better shape than most people his age. He's always been a hard worker."
Torre, who managed Rodriguez with the Yankees from 2004-07, stopped short of saying he wants to see him succeed. Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, uncharacteristically but understandably tap-danced a bit when he was asked that.
"He did something that was wrong and he was penalized for it," Torre said. "The penalty is over with at this point, as far as I know. It's something he had to live with and something he had to get through.
"When I had him as a player, I know there were a lot more stories than reality on our relationship. I never really had any problems with him other than trying to figure out the baseball end of it. I never had a problem with Alex, and I just want to do what's best for the game of baseball.
"Hopefully, a lot of other people learn lessons from what happened to him. I think that's important just for the game itself. That's the thing that interests me most is what's best for the game, and let's see what happens."
By leaving him in Tampa, the Yankees spared Rodriguez the cross-state bus ride and also what would have been an interesting reaction from Mets fans here. Torre said he thinks he knows what the reaction will be on Opening Day on April 6 at Yankee Stadium: mostly positive.
As long as A-Rod sticks to just playing baseball.
"New York fans like their baseball and football and basketball and hockey," Torre said. "No question. I think when they come to Yankee Stadium, they're going to root for the Yankees. I think they're all going to be curious about how well Alex can do. There are a lot of people out there in and out of the game of baseball who have that curiosity, too."