If at first you don’t succeed . . . well, it could mean embarrassment, even more time on the bench and possibly the end of the line. Still, Alex Rodriguez is willing to give it a shot. Without much of a role or a lot of hope for getting one, he has volunteered to try playing first base.
There he was, four hours before the opener of the Yankees’ nominal second half, wearing a first baseman’s glove and taking grounders at a strange position that he thinks might help him scratch out some more at-bats.
“He came to us, and I’m not going to deny a player a chance,” Joe Girardi said before Friday night’s 5-3 loss to Boston. “The fact that he wants to try to get comfortable, that’s a good sign.”
Or it could be a sign that Rod riguez is desperate enough to try anything. A late-career switch to first base can be a disaster, even for someone who has more skill as an infielder than did Mike Piazza as a Met in 2003. With that in mind, any suggestion that Rod riguez become a first baseman last year was quickly and thoroughly shot down. As Girardi said, “Last year, we were not able to make him comfortable.”
That might be translated as Rod riguez didn’t want to do it after a brief attempt. He was hitting a ton and the Yankees didn’t want to mess with that. But this season, he has been reduced to being the DH against lefthanded pitching and the occasional knuckleballer, such as Steven Wright on Friday night (Rodriguez had the Yankees’ first hit, a dribbler in the fifth).
“Last year I think I had over 600 at-bats,” he said. “The focus for me was to be in the lineup every day and do damage. This year is a different year, different circumstances, so I’m open to it.”
If he were a first baseman, maybe he could have stayed in the game after he pinch hit in Cleveland last week. Maybe he can fill in for Mark Teixeira one day out of five. Maybe he can be more a part of the Yankees. “You don’t have to be a Gold Glove first baseman,” he said.
How interesting that the 40-year-old DH’s experiment began Friday night, when the other team’s 40-year-old DH continued his farewell victory lap. David Ortiz was fresh off a tribute-festooned trip to the All-Star Game, at which he came off as both everybody’s favorite uncle and a fearsome hitter.
Ortiz is having such a great season that people all around the game are begging him to reconsider his decision to retire. “I think he’s really enjoying what he’s doing. I think he’s soaking in every moment of his last year,” Girardi said. “I don’t know if you play as well as he does that you can walk away.”
The heart and soul of the Red Sox does not deny that he is having the time of his life. “I’m fine right now,” Ortiz said before the game, in which he hit a single to the wall. “I mean, the second half is about to begin, so hopefully everything goes well, just like in the first half. I really know how to manage myself.”
Rodriguez is at the other end of the tug-of-war with age. He is like the longtime worker who gets called in by a company’s new executives and gets asked, “What is it that you do again?”
It is a tad late to reinvent himself, so he just wants to make himself useful. But how long will it take him to learn first base, and will he be any good?
“I think it’s a mental test for him, in a sense,” Girardi said. “Physically, he has the skills. He has the hands, he has the ability to throw, he understands the game.”
When reporters asked Rod riguez, he smiled and said, “Don’t overthink it,” pointing out that, yes, first base is underrated in its difficulty and importance but that he has played a lot of shortstop and third base.
And yes, part of his new voluntarism was born from his abundant bench time.
“A lot of it,” he acknowledged, admitting that he wasn’t so hot the first time he worked at first. “I’m going to keep trying. That’s what I do. I keep trying things.”