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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

As Alex Rodriguez goes, so will the fans

Alex Rodriguez walks back to the dugout as

Alex Rodriguez walks back to the dugout as he reacts to striking out in the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. (Oct. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty

I'm not a Yankees fan, and that's why I'm not going to tell any of the actual Yankees fans how they should treat Alex Rodriguez when he finally returns home Friday night for the first time since Game 2 of last October's ALCS.

I'm not sure they even know yet.

As you may remember, A-Rod wasn't exactly a Bronx favorite the last time we saw him there. In between getting pulled for pinch hitters and ultimately benched in the ALCS, Rodriguez reportedly was flipping baseballs to Australian bikini models behind the dugout during the late innings of that series opener, not long after Derek Jeter had to be helped off with a fractured ankle.

But let's say the fans are willing to forget all that, the hitting woes in the playoffs (3-for-25, .120), the 12 strikeouts, the parade of feeble grounders, the flirting. Chalk it up to another bum hip and start fresh.

If only things were that simple.

So much has happened since what we thought was rock bottom for A-Rod that last year's postseason debacle feels as if it barely factors into the equation Friday night. Having the Tigers back at Yankee Stadium should trigger a few flashbacks, but I can't pretend to know just how much the wearing of that beloved pinstriped uniform can cover up a multitude of sins.

Here's what we do know: It helps. A lot.

This latest Biogenesis episode isn't A-Rod's only run-in with PEDs. Back in February 2009, Rodriguez copped to using steroids after being outed for a positive test that was supposed to be confidential. And how did he get past that? By helping the Yankees win the world championship for the first time since 2000.

One trip down the Canyon of Heroes later, everyone was friends again. A-Rod got to be a True Yankee (sort of) and The House That Steinbrenner Built got banner No. 27.

It wasn't quite unconditional love for Rodriguez back then -- that's reserved for Monument Park types like Jeter and Mariano Rivera -- but there was some real affection going on.

Is anyone still holding on to those memories? We know Johnny Damon is. He basically tried to tarnish his own World Series ring by suggesting this week that A-Rod's alleged PED involvement with Biogenesis stains the Yankees' 2009 crown. Never mind that Damon shared a Red Sox clubhouse with two confirmed PED cheats -- David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez -- who were instrumental in breaking The Curse of the Bambino in 2004 and won another World Series in 2007.

Do any Yankees fans share Damon's view? Doubtful. But has A-Rod exhausted that deep reservoir of goodwill by now? Tough to say.

This isn't like Barry Bonds being adored at AT & T Park and hated everywhere else. The defiant Bonds had the Feds closing in on him, but he never faced a PED-related suspension, and he dodged Bud Selig long enough to become the sport's Home Run King.

Rodriguez isn't that lucky. He's been accused of being the central figure in the most notorious PED racket ever uncovered by Major League Baseball, which has slapped him with a 211-game suspension. And if that isn't enough, the longer the penalty, the better it seemingly would be for the Yankees, who then could recoup enough money on Rodriguez to make much-needed upgrades going forward.

Throw that No. 13 jersey in the Dumpster yet? Hold on a minute. Is it possible the Bronx faithful still could rally behind Rodriguez, maybe in the desperate hope that two productive months could nudge the Yankees into the postseason? Or how about the pro-labor faction that might be rooting for A-Rod to succeed in knocking down what some would consider a grossly unfair 211-game penalty?

Yes, there will be some A-Rod loyalists sticking by their guy. But the problem for Rodriguez is that people love apologies. They love to give their fallen heroes second chances. But A-Rod isn't saying he's sorry. Not this time. He can't.

Rodriguez's only play here is to perform on the field. No Yankees fan has ever booed a home run by a Yankee. They probably won't start now, not even with him.

"I've been waiting a long time for this day," Rodriguez said.

So has everyone else. They just don't know what they've been waiting for.

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