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A-Rod’s hit-and-miss ESPN debut enlivened by J-Lo’s visit

Alex Rodriguez attends batting practice for the MLB

Alex Rodriguez attends batting practice for the MLB All-Star Game at Marlins Park on July 11, 2017 in Miami. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann

There was Alex Rodriguez, doing a workmanlike job in his regular-season debut for ESPN on Thursday night, when in the middle of the fourth inning he welcomed a visitor in the booth at Dodger Stadium.

Wait . . . wasn’t that Jennifer Lopez, Rodriguez’s current girlfriend and fellow pop culture superstar? Indeed, it was. ESPN showed the highlights. It began with a quick kiss.

So, to review: As always, A-Rod never stops being A-Rod — for better and/or worse — no matter what he is doing.

That is one reason ESPN hired him to join fellow newcomer Matt Vasgersian and returning Jessica Mendoza for its retooled “Sunday Night Baseball” crew. He is an attention magnet.

But viewers interested in just relaxing and watching a ballgame will judge Rodriguez in the long run on what he says and not by which pop culture icon he kisses during breaks.

How did that part go? Let’s start with this: Tony Romo, he is not. Not yet, anyway.

Romo, the television game analyst Rookie of the Year for 2017, made his mark at CBS by correctly anticipating plays. Rodriguez tried that, too, on Opening Day, with mixed results.

He correctly predicted several strategic moves, including a sequence in which he was right about Hunter Pence trying to steal on one pitch, then right about him not stealing on the next.

But Rodriguez repeatedly sought to guess what type of pitch was coming, and had his ups and downs on that front.

For the most part, he showed what he was known for by many in baseball during his playing career, and during his three seasons as a Fox studio analyst.

The man is an unabashed baseball nerd, and knows and loves the sport as well as anyone on television.

Rodriguez wisely used the previous Thursday’s spring training game between the Yankees and Twins to get out of the way a discussion of his own history of performance enhancing drug use. That cleared the deck for a baseball-only game on the regular-season stage.

He began by admitting to some nerves, at which point Mendoza said, “We’ve got you.”

But Rodriguez seemed relatively relaxed. When the discussion turned to catcher Buster Posey being the longest-tenured Giant at age 31, A-Rod got off a good line: “31 is the new 41 in baseball.”

Rodriguez spoke in detail about the challenge of facing Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, even though he did not encounter him regularly as a player. But he knew enough to sound as if he had.

This is a time of transition for two of ESPN’s marquee properties. Mendoza will be the only play-by-play person or analyst to return to “Sunday Night Baseball” or “Monday Night Football” from 2017.

Rodriguez is replacing Aaron Boone, whose first regular-season game as the Yankees’ manager went rather well on Thursday, a 6-1 victory over the Blue Jays.

Boone was a solid analyst but no bundle of personality in the ESPN booth, much like A-Rod on Day One.

At Fox — where Rodriguez still will appear in the postseason — he had people like former analyst Pete Rose and current host Kevin Burkhardt to draw him out, even though he primarily played the straight man.

There is not anything necessarily wrong with that, but he would do well to loosen up over time as he gets more comfortable with the game booth role, which allows for much more talking and storytelling than studio work. (He did do select games in the booth for Fox.)

Rodriguez also should leverage his vast experience, in the form of stories like the one he offered in the bottom of the seventh, by far the highlight of his TV night.

He spoke at length about his carpool to work with Andy Pettitte from their homes in Purchase to Yankee Stadium.

“Andy Pettitte taught me how to be a world champion [in 2009],” Rodriguez said. “Those times with Andy Pettitte is probably one of the highlights of my career.”

New York Sports