All Eyes On A-Rod At Yankees' Spring Training

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For the New York Yankees and its fans, spring represents a chance to enjoy baseball instead of fretting about controversies from the offseason. Alex Rodriguez and his admission of steroid use was the inevitable focus as the New York Yankees play in Tampa, Fla.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

It happens every spring. It's the name of an old movie about baseball. And for the New York Yankees and their fans, this year's season couldn't happen fast enough. Spring training means a chance to enjoy the game instead of fretting over winter controversies. And there were many.

From the Florida Grapefruit League, NPR's Mike Pesca has this report.

(Soundbite of song, "Take Me Out to the Ballpark")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Take me out to the ballgame. Take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and…

MIKE PESCA: This off-season saw the usual controversies, which amounted to peanuts, a genuine case of crackerjack reporting - linking a star to steroids. One began to wonder if the Yankees would ever come back.

Brett Peterson(ph) was at the Yankees' home opener yesterday in Tampa, wearing an Alex Rodriguez jersey - but with some reservations, he said. The off-season was so depressing, Peterson began to crave those two magic words: play ball.

Mr. BRETT PETERSON: The players were able to come out here and just play baseball, and the fans were just able to enjoy it, watching baseball. I think it's a good break from the whole steroid controversy that seems to have plagued the MLB for so many years now.

PESCA: Which was an echo of what Alex Rodriguez said when spring training began.

Mr. ALEX RODRIGUEZ (Baseball Player, New York Yankees): Spring training represents a new start for me and a chance to win a championship.

PESCA: Those words prefaced what seems like a yearly ritual with the Yankees: kicking off camp with a press conference in which a star player apologizes for past steroid use.

It seems that Yankee fans have processed it all with a bit of a sigh and a dollop of defiance.

Mr. CARMINE GANDOLFU(ph): Picking on the Yankees, that's what it is.

PESCA: Carmine Gandolfu of Brooklyn was at his first spring training game ever.

Mr. GANDOLFU: That - you've got to take that abuse when you're a great team.

PESCA: Gandolfu will get some agreement from Yankee manager Joe Girardi.

Mr. JOE GIRARDI (Manager, New York Yankees): Pretty much, you know, if you're a Yankee, you've been booed before.

(Soundbite of Yankees ballgame)

PESCA: Even during this year's debut before the home crowd.

(Soundbite of booing)

PESCA: Of course, there were a lot of Tampa Bay Rays fans in the stands, but Girardi concedes that taking some abuse is the price of being A-Rod.

Mr. GIRARDI: Alex seems to, probably, get booed the loudest sometimes. But I mean, he's used to it. I mean, he's had to learn to shut things out.

PESCA: In fact, Rodriguez's inability to shut things out was the topic of another Yankee off-season controversy, a book co-authored by Joe Torre in which the former Yankees manager said Rodriguez pressed so hard to succeed that he all but ensured failure.

Yankee fan Joe Nyheart(ph) read enough about the book to know he didn't want to read it.

Mr. JOE NYHEART: The book was just - not so much what was written, it's just how it came out and when it came out. It's a little disappointing, that's all.

PESCA: But did you read the book?

Mr. NYHEART: I did not - just the excerpts in the newspaper. And that's probably all I want to do.

PESCA: Before the Torre book, the biggest story this off-season was the huge contracts the Yankees paid free agents Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, signings another team's owner deemed absurd. But just as the Torre book knocked that story off the back page, so did the Rodriguez steroid admission turn the Torre story hoary. Maybe Alex Rodriguez is a genius, a magnet who sucks up all other media scrutiny. That theory was advanced by a fan wearing a Rodriguez jersey, Dane Mesa(ph).

Mr. DANE MESA: No one talks about Teixeira. No one talks about Sabathia. It's just A-Rod.

PESCA: Mesa, who is actually a fan of the Angels, explained that he was wearing the Rodriguez jersey sarcastically, that Rodriguez strikes out so much against the Angels that he winds up helping them.

MESA: He's my favorite Angel.

PESCA: Which is the first time in a long time Rodriguez has been called either a favorite or an angel.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, Tampa, Florida.

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