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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Alex Rodriguez has reason to smile

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (13) smiles during

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (13) smiles during batting practice before a game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Saturday, April 4, 2015, in Washington. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

It started on Opening Day as kind of a joke:

Alex Rodriguez is the best hitter on the Yankees.

A week later, it's no joke. But there's more. Alex Rodriguez is the best hitter, the best story and the best reason to watch the Yankees.

He also may be having the best time of any human being on the planet. He leads the team in RBIs, smiles and cheers.

He did it again Sunday night in the Yankees' 14-4 victory over the Red Sox, crushing a three-run double into the left-centerfield gap in the Yankees' seven-run first inning against Clay Buchholz.

That gave Rodriguez six hits in 19 at-bats (.316). The bases-loaded walk he drew in the sixth gave him six RBIs in six games.

The grin on his face at second base was as big as his paycheck. As big as the gumption he showed by screaming for a year that he didn't do steroids again. As big as the about-face he did when he admitted he was guilty of pretty much everything baseball had on him.

Judging by the reaction at Yankee Stadium as Brian McCann slid in with run No. 3 on the double, none of it matters. A-Rod could run for Mayor of New York right now and win in a landslide. Or at least Bronx Borough President.

Don't count out either of those possibilities. If we've learned anything about A-Rod in the last few years, it's that you never know where the story is going.

How about this more plausible idea: Rodriguez is voted in by the fans as the American League's starting designated hitter for the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

Think it can't happen? In 2014, Nelson Cruz was voted in by those same fans as the DH for the American League. That was for the season following his 50-game suspension for the same Biogenesis scandal that cost Rodriguez the 2014 season.

Cruz's presence at last year's All-Star Game caused barely a ripple. A-Rod's at this year's would bring a tidal wave of attention and cause a headache for baseball and its new commissioner, Rod Manfred, who happens to be the man who brought Rodriguez to justice in the first place as Bud Selig's deputy.

If it happens, A-Rod will smile and appear humble and trot out well-chosen and well-rehearsed lines. His legal team may have let him down in his battle with baseball, but his public relations people are proving to be worth every dollar since he first showed up in spring training and expressed contrition in a roadside interview.

After Sunday night's game, Rodriguez was asked if anything has surprised him about the first week. "I think just overall the appreciation of being back in uniform,'' he said. "What a great honor to play for the New York Yankees in front of some of the greatest fans in the world. I missed the game a lot. Just going out there and having the announcer call your name I think is pretty special.''

Rodriguez's message has been as consistent as his swing. He feels like a rookie again. He's willing to bat wherever Joe Girardi wants him to (sixth Sunday night). Yankees fans are the best and smartest in baseball.

Gone, apparently, is the foot-in-mouth disease that afflicted Rodriguez. He seems to have finally learned from the former captain, Derek Jeter, that the best strategy is to give the same answers over and over -- although Rodriguez has been doing it with more flair than Jeter ever mustered.

After hitting his first home run, Rodriguez joked about needing "Google maps" to find his way around the bases. When someone asked him if he is into sabermetrics, Rodriguez chided the reporter for using a "Harvard word."

Why shouldn't Rodriguez be happy? Perhaps the year away from the game he loves has taught him to value what he has, that it could all be taken away again if he makes another misstep. Perhaps he's really a different man from the one who needed the crutch of PEDs despite being one of the most talented players the game has ever seen.

Perhaps he wears infamy even better than he ever wore fame.

There are plenty of people out there who wanted A-Rod to fail in this comeback. So far, he is having the last, best laugh. No wonder he's smiling all the time.

New York Sports