NEW YORK -- As Alex Rodriguez walked to the plate at Yankee Stadium for the first time since being suspended on Monday -- and filing his appeal on Wednesday -- he had a head start on the cheers, as Brett Gardner sprinted across the plate with New York’s first run of the night.
Rodriguez, standing on the fringe of the dirt circle with his hands raised to signal that Gardner had no need to slide, even added two of his own claps before continuing into the batter’s box. As Rodriguez dug in against Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello and P.A. announcer Paul Olden read the third baseman’s name about half the crowd booed lustily while the other half cheered, many even standing as they did so.
There was no consensus on the tenor of Rodriguez’s greeting -- as there rarely is when it comes to the perception of the game’s highest-paid player and highest-profiled suspendee -- except at the conclusion of his at-bat. Following his swing and miss at strike three, Rodriguez returned to the dugout to an unmistakably unanimous round of boos.
Rodriguez, who did not speak to reporters before Friday’s game, said on Monday in Chicago, “If I’m productive, I think they want me back … New York’s about winning championships. It’s about producing.”
Everyone got a sampling of the mixed reaction in the top half of the first inning. After the game’s second pitch, the Bleacher Creatures’ daily roll call made its way around to third base, where the right field section’s chant of “A-Rod! A-Rod!” was brief before Rodriguez curtailed the commotion with a lift of his gloved hand. Reactionary boos and cheers immediately filled the ballpark.
Asked prior to the game about an expectation for how the fans would welcome Rodriguez, manager Joe Girardi said, “I don’t really have a way they should receive him. That’s not my job.” Girardi insisted this week hadn’t really been much of a distraction to anyone but Rodriguez.
Given that Rodriguez has been alternately booed and cheered throughout his Yankees tenure -- ranging from the highs of 2005 and 2007 AL MVPs and a strong 2009 postseason, to lows of his 3-for-25 postseason last October and his 2009 steroid admission -- such a mixture was not unexpected.
In fact, the biggest incongruities of the night were the special-edition white-billed cap on his head (part of a cancer-fighting partnership with New Era and the David C. Koch Foundation) and the identity of the shortstop to his left (Eduardo Nuñez, not Derek Jeter). Just as it was before his suspension, some fans will always cheer and some will always boo -- and others will probably wait and see how many hits he has. New York, as Rodriguez knows, is about producing.