‘I Will Be Back on Monday’

I don’t think Alex Rodriguez is a bad guy. I never have. I think he’s spent his entire time with the Yankees trying desperately to be someone he’s not and someone he thinks people want him to be. If anything, he’s a phony publicly because of this, but I don’t think he’s a bad guy like many.

Have I been frustrated with A-Rod the majority of the time since he became a Yankee in 2004? Yes. Have I wished they never traded for him and I could have continued to wear an Alfonso Soriano shirt? Yes. Have I wondered how he could continually put himself in a bad spot, setting himself up for disaster and inevitable backlash like a much more important Kevin Gilbride? Yes. Have I stayed awake at night wondering why the low-and-outside slider is his version of Mark Teixeira’s changeup in the dirt? Yes. Have I spent an unhealthy amount of time dreaming of him never playing another game with the Yankees and the organization somehow getting off the hook for his Hank Steinbrenner contract? Yes. Have I pretended that being in attendance for his 500th and 600th home runs means something and have hidden the fact that he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs? Yes. Have I avoided the Biogenesis stories and reports the way A-Rod has avoided the questions he is asked about it? Yes. Have I erased his final three months of the 2012 season from my memory and think that when he returns we’ll be getting the A-Rod we got the last time he returned from hip surgery? Have I talked myself into believing that A-Rod will return and be a productive and powerful presence in the middle of the Yankees lineup? Yes.

Following Joe Girardi’s most important decision as manager of the Yankees to hit Raul Ibanez for A-Rod in Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS, I wrote the following about A-Rod.

The relationship between A-Rod and Yankee fans is a weird one. From the time he walks from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box with “Ni**as In Paris” playing, A-Rod is loved. The Stadium is full of applause and cheers in an attempt to will a home run or an extra-base hit or even just a single or a walk out of him. The fans want A-Rod to succeed. They want to have a reason to feel optimistic about him even if the 2009 playoffs should have bought him a lifetime of immunity. After that walk to the batter’s box, A-Rod has until the end of his plate appearance for the cheers to continue. If his at-bat ends well then he’s loved until his next at-bat. If it ends poorly he’s hated until his next at-bat. The perception of A-Rod as a Yankee is about life between at-bats and about him buying time between boos. In a game where failure is expected, he faces unrealistic expectations.

Well, on Monday in Texas, life between at-bats will begin again for A-Rod.

Whether you’re a Yankee fan that hates A-Rod and lives for the opportunities to boo him or you’re a Yankee fan with big enough balls to wear an A-Rod shirt or jersey and pretend like you’ve never heard of Yuri Sucart, right now it doesn’t matter. What matters right now is that David Adams (.190/.260/.276) has the most plate appearances for a Yankee at third base this season and managed to get 128 plate appearances because there was no one else to turn to. Well, there wasn’t anyone to turn to until the Yankees called up career .239 hitter Alberto Gonzalez and signed Luis Cruz, who was cut by the Dodgers for his .127/.175/.169 line in 45 games when the Dodgers weren’t even good.

Aside from Adams, Gonzalez and Cruz, Jayson Nix, Vernon Wells (!) and Kevin Youkilis have also played third base. That means most of the third base innings for the Yankees this season have come from a trio of players who, as I’m writing this could be sitting next to me and talking to me or could punch me in the face and I wouldn’t have any idea who they are. The 2013 Yankees have managed to turn the third base position into the pre-Jeter/A-Rod/Nomar days at shortshop (which baseball looks like it’s back to) and have essentially created two light-hitting positions on the left side of the infield with Jeter out and Eduardo Nunez showing less signs of power than the Boston Garden during the 1987-88 Stanley Cup.

The Yankees need A-Rod back and they really needed him back for Friday at Fenway, but we’ll settle for Monday in Arlington. A-Rod talked with Mike Francesa on Monday and with his return coming on Monday, let’s analyze some of A-Rod’s answers from the interview.

On what part of his game concerns him the most.

“I think lateral movement is probably the most challenging part, especially because it’s the hip and moving to your left is something that concerns me a little bit.”

What’s concerning about the lateral movement of a 38-year-old third baseman coming off a second major hip operation in four years? Lateral movement is overrated in the majors. Nothing to see here. Move along.

On if he will be able to play for the Yankees on Monday.

“If we have a good weekend, I will be in Texas.”

I don’t know if A-Rod is going to hit a home run on the first pitch he sees this season the way he did when he came back from hip surgery in 2009, which led to Michael Kay screaming in celebration in the same manner people who win the Powerball scream. But I do know that A-Rod or the Broken-Down A-Rod hitting fourth in the Yankees lineup (he better be hitting fourth) is a better option than Broken-Down Travis Hafner or Broken-Down Vernon Wells.

On if he feels like himself and being injured at the end of last year.

“I hit a ball yesterday and it was about a 93 or 94 mph fastball from a left-handed pitcher and I was able to drive it over the left-center field wall. And that’s something that I know for sure I couldn’t do in August, September or October, and by the way, I couldn’t even do that last week.”

I’m not sure that A-Rod would have been able to take a Freddy Garcia fastball out of the park in the postseason last year. But if A-Rod couldn’t handle a mid-90s fastball last week, how is he driving that same pitch over the left-center field wall this week? I’m going to chalk this up as him getting into “baseball shape” and his muscle memory returning and I’m not going to chalk it up as him texting Yuri for “something.”

On his relationship with the Yankees.

“I think over the last several weeks we’ve had good communication. We’ve had productive conversations. I think we all have the same goal to get back on the field, help the team win, and make a run out of this thing. I think the team has done a phenomenal job of keeping us right in the race.

I think A-Rod meant to say, “You mean how are things since Brian Cashman told me to ‘Shut the f-ck up?’ Things are great!”

Whenever someone says that two parties with a shaky past are having “good communication,” 100 percent of the time it means there is a mutual dislike or hatred.

On whether or not he had his reps make a deal with Major League Baseball.

“No, that’s not true. You heard Michael [Weiner] speak over the All-Star break. At this moment that’s all we can really discuss on the matter.”

The last time A-Rod was connected to performance-enhancing drugs, it ended with him holding a sitdown with Peter Gammons, in which he admitted to taking PEDs (but only in Texas, of course) and calling Selena Roberts a stalker. History suggests that A-Rod more than likely made some poor decisions in connection with the Biogenesis scandal, but let’s forget about that for now because who cares about potential 150-game suspensions or lifetime bans? A-Rod’s playing on Monday! Get excited!

On whether or not there is any deal with Major League Baseball.

“There’s no deal that I’ve instructed anyone to do at this point.”

I thought we were forgetting about all of this?

On if there’s anything wrong with him physically.

“I think the most concerning thing is I’m 38. I’m not 28. I’m no spring chicken. I have aches that I’ve never even knew, muscles in my body that (I didn’t know) I had.”

Was Mark Teixeira in the car whispering this answer into A-Rod’s ear? It sounds oddly familiar to the answer Teixeira gave the Wall Street Journal back in February before injuring his wrist and spending 2013 collecting $22.5 million while hanging out at home in Greenwich, Conn.

Thanks for the reminder about being 38 despite making $28 million this year, $25 million next year, $21 million in 2015, $20 million in 2016 and $20 million in 2017. I can’t wait to see 42-year-old A-Rod as the designated hitter or 42-year-old A-Rod signing memorabilia with Pete Rose in Las Vegas if Bud Selig gets his way.

On watching Derek Jeter get hurt after one game back this season.

“I do think that we have an opportunity here in the second half to get healthy and hopefully come back with a bang and give the fans of New York what they expect, and that’s a world championship-caliber team.”

Are you saying that a world championship team can’t have Luis Cruz or Alberto Gonzalez getting everyday player at-bats? Are you forgetting about the night Travis Ishikawa showed up to save the Yankees’ season?

On the Yankees’ struggling offense.

“I think the guys have done a great job. I think Joe deserves a lot of credit, our coaching staff deserves a lot of credit. I think we’re coming back at the right time and the good news is that it’s not just one guy, it’s going to be a handful of guys. And I think the time is right and I think we’re ready for that.”

A-Rod’s reasoning here is why I’m not already preparing myself for football and hockey season, but it’s also why I should probably be preparing myself for football and hockey season.

Normally, a six-game deficit would have me freaking out, throwing electronic devices and possibly crying. But this six-game deficit (five in the loss column for optimism) doesn’t feel like a six-game deficit because of who has played (and more importantly who hasn’t played) for the Yankees through 95 games. And it also doesn’t feel like one because the Yankees’ two-game losing streak (including Sunday’s loss, which was the most embarrassing Yankee loss since probably Opening Day in the Bronx in 2009) was delayed because of the All-Star break and it gave me time to collect my thoughts and think rationally and reasonably about the 2013 Yankees.

I love the optimism in A-Rod’s voice because I feel optimistic about the “second half” of the season too. But if the Yankees go down 2-0 in the first inning on Friday night in Boston, I’m sure that will change.

On if he had any doubts about making it back.

“Look, you always have doubts. If I could just sit here and tell you, ‘Yeah, it’s been just a colorful ride and it’s been a rainbow,’ I would be lying to you. There was very dark moments, challenging, some achy mornings. Every day, getting up really early, leaving the Tampa complex very late, doing cold tubs at night, doing hot tubs in the morning. It’s been a very challenging process.”

There has been nothing about A-Rod’s nine previous seasons in New York that could be considered “a colorful ride” or “a rainbow,” so I’m not sure why either of those things would be part of his vocabulary anymore.

I do feel bad that A-Rod had to go to work early and leave late and that he was taking cold baths and hanging out in hot tubs in Florida. That type of lifestyle must suck.

On no one believing he would be back with the Yankees.

“I will be back on Monday and I’m very excited.”

So am I.

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