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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

With countdown clock on, is Alex Rodriguez destined for Cooperstown?

New York Yankees special advisor Alex Rodriguez speaks

New York Yankees special advisor Alex Rodriguez speaks with pitcher CC Sabathia who is reflected in his sunglasses during a spring training baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. Photo Credit: AP / Matt Rourke

TAMPA, Fla.

When Alex Rod riguez officially announced his retirement during Tuesday’s news conference at Steinbrenner Field, two thoughts came to mind.

First, we can’t believe he’s decided to call it quits only four home runs shy of 700.

And second, it’s time to start A-Rod’s clock for Cooperstown.

So what’s more surprising? That Rodriguez chose to take a pass on becoming the fourth member of the 700 club? Or that we’re even suggesting he has a shot at the Hall of Fame?

We’re guessing the latter.

A-Rod might have needed only a few good weeks to hit those four homers, and we’re betting some team would have taken him on board at some point during the upcoming season, but he made the right call to stay in Hal Steinbrenner’s good graces.

As Special Adviser to the Managing General Partner — you can look it up in the media guide — he will continue to have Steinbrenner’s ear, and who knows where that eventually might lead.

Could a spot in Monument Park really be that far behind?

Maybe not, if Rodriguez is able to ride the growing undercurrent of support for fellow PED-tainted Hall of Fame candidates Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, each of whom made a significant gain in the voting this year. Midway through their 10-year window of eligibility, Clemens (54.1 percent) and Bonds (53.8) are in pretty good shape as they climb toward the 75 percent needed. Only two candidates in the past 25 years have made it this far with more than 50 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and not been inducted: Jack Morris and Lee Smith.

So now let’s circle back to Rod riguez, who has slam-dunk credentials for the Hall — just like Clemens and Bonds — but also more damning PED baggage than those two. A record one-year suspension from the game doesn’t look so hot on a candidate’s resume. But that’s already three years in the rearview mirror, with another five to go before the BBWAA electorate gets to consider him.

And where do voters draw the line? At the time Rodriguez first admitted to using PEDs, during a three-year period that ran from 2001-03, or when Bud Selig issued the Biogenesis suspension to ban him for the 2014 season?

Either way, he has been doing some convincing legacy rehab lately with the Yankees, including this past week’s camp visit as a guest instructor, which is why we posed the question to him about his future chances for a plaque in Cooperstown.

Is it something that Rodriguez has been thinking about now that he’s retired?

“Everyone’s dream is to end up in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “Obviously I have a unique situation and I don’t have a vote, unfortunately. But I think that with everything I’ve been through, I have an opportunity to be a Hall of Famer in other things — to be a Hall of Fame father, and give back to the sport, the baseball community, and do things the right way.”

He’s clearly a different A-Rod now. Nothing like the one who once sued the Yankees and verbally firebombed the commissioner’s office during his appeal hearings. But with Bud Selig retired, Rodriguez has patched things up with commissioner Rob Manfred — his chief adversary during the Biogenesis investigation — and could not be more welcome around the Yankees’ ownership.

Plus, if you want to count his star turn during the Fox baseball broadcasts, sitting alongside the banned-for-life Pete Rose, the A-Rod redemption tour has been full steam ahead for quite a while.

With the BBWAA warming to Clemens and Bonds, is A-Rod’s candidacy all that different? The first two benefited from playing before MLB instituted its PED testing program as well as the strict penalty guidelines that have been put in place during the past decade. As a BBWAA member, I do vote for Clemens and Bonds, but A-Rod’s year-long suspension is a trickier hurdle to overcome.

Fortunately, the consequences of that ballot debate still are five years away. When Rodriguez was asked if the Clemens/Bonds gains made him more optimistic about his own chances, he again gave a political answer.

“Look, all I can say, it’s every kid’s dream to end up in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “After that, I haven’t given it too much thought. I tell you what, I love the game, I love what I’m doing. And the time I’m spending with the [Yankees’] kids, to me, is pretty awesome.”

THE NEW ‘BOSS’

To see how much spring training has changed since George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field) opened 21 years ago, all it took was Thursday’s tour of the ballpark, which underwent a $40-million renovation.

What originated as a somewhat low-key tuneup for the regular season has exploded into a huge business, and the upgrades to Steinbrenner Field are not only a reflection of that but a preview of what’s waiting up north in the Bronx come April.

Anthony Bruno, the senior vice president/chief financial officer for Yankee Global Enterprises, opened the tour with what is now the mantra for professional baseball teams — minus the baseball.

“The key word that I’ll say a thousand times is experience,” Bruno said. “It’s more than just the game.”

The other buzzword from Bruno? “Selfies.” Yes, the social media engine that drives most other aspects of our lives is now a powerful influencer of stadium architecture. As Bruno explained, the expanded second-level patios, the “Vegas-style” cabanas and the new walkway that encircles the outfield fence is designed partly for the Facebook and Snapchat crowd.

In surveying fans, the Yankees discovered that open areas to congregate were the most desired updates. Apparently, people are less inclined to be anchored to their seats during games.

“A lot of our fans — particularly the Millennials — want to watch baseball in maybe a different way,” Hal Steinbrenner said earlier this month in talking about the offseason renovations at both parks. “They want to be standing up. They want to be talking to friends. They want to have that experience along with the experience of what goes on on the field.”

They also want to be eating things like ahi tuna poke nachos with sriracha truffle aioli, one of the featured items in the upgraded concessions at Steinbrenner Field. Maybe this stuff didn’t seem quite as necessary when the Core Four still called Tampa home, but it’s a big part of the Yankees’ entertainment strategy now.

2022 VISION

Five years from now, Alex Rodriguez will join three other notable ’16 retirees on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. A-Rod could possibly share it with three more marquee names whose Cooperstown candidacy would be down to the 10th and final year.

Alex Rodriguez ... 1st year on ballot

David Ortiz ......... 1st

Prince Fielder ..... 1st

Mark Teixeira ..... 1st

Rogers Clemens ... 10

Barry Bonds ......... 10

Curt Schilling ....... 10

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