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Thread: Alex Rodriguez (The A-Rod thread)

  1. #46

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    February 27, 2004

    SPORTS OF THE TIMES

    Yankees Only Adding To Lack of Continuity

    By HARVEY ARATON

    TAMPA, Fla.

    THE gulf between seasons grew much wider here yesterday when the Yankees cut ties with Aaron Boone, and a surgeon may have cost Bernie Williams center field. Hold those regular-season programs, spring training's just begun.

    Even under the blue Florida sky, it's a cold, cruel Yankees reality. Williams, the widely loved, longtime fixture, was primed to fend off the challenge of Kenny Lofton until yesterday. After telling a reporter he was experiencing stomach discomfort, Williams was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.

    Manager Joe Torre estimated three weeks of recovery, resulting in a delayed start to the season for Williams. So long, job security, and thanks for the memories.

    At least Williams will get paid. Boone is on his own, a free agent on crutches.

    Hero today, gone tomorrow. That sums up his short stay in pinstripes. Boone beat the Red Sox with a pennant-clinching home run in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, then tore up his knee playing winter pickup hoops. With Boone in violation of his $5.75 million contract, the Yankees had the ingenious idea of replacing him with the best player in baseball.

    "Though he didn't hit in the World Series, struggling from the time we got him, he wasn't afraid," Torre said. "You can put him up right with Bucky Dent."

    In other words: So long, Sox killer, and thanks for the memory.

    Another day, another deletion. The Yankees, months removed from the Series, will begin the season with four new position players in the lineup. Make it five if Travis Lee — a free agent signed earlier in the week, in case you blinked — opens at first base with Jason Giambi as the designated hitter. There will also be four new starters in the rotation and two new bullpen recruits to go with all those imported late last season.

    Anyone counting? Anyone care?

    "I think Yankee fans do care," said Derek Jeter, one of four remaining Yankees from the last championship team, in 2000. "I think they are especially loyal to the players they follow."

    Maybe they are, but the more changes George Steinbrenner makes, the more tickets he sells. Who would have predicted this 20 years ago when radical player movement was said to be the end of professional sports as we had known it, and maybe the end of pro sports?

    Yankee fans did bark when the homegrown Andy Pettitte left, but they purred when Javier Vazquez came. No one but Jeter so much as mentioned Alfonso Soriano when he was shipped out for Alex Rodriguez. Our guys, the other guys, they are all interchangeable, depending on the need of the week.

    "If we weren't winning as much, it might be different," the bench coach Willie Randolph said. "People get past feeling like they need to identify with players because winning gives them something else to think about."

    That's part of it, but there's more, relating not only to the Yankees. In this high-tech, freewheeling world of diverse lifestyles and entertainment options, sports have become a reflection of fans flipping away at home to their heart's content.

    Jeter made this connection when he said: "When I was growing up, the only chance we had to see other players besides our home team was on `This Week in Baseball.' Now you've got ESPN games, satellite, the highlights. With all the media coverage, you feel like you know all the players."

    No one's a stranger anymore. Young fans are especially conditioned to the team hopping, the player swapping. N.F.L. players switch uniforms at a dizzying pace. Isiah Thomas remakes the Knicks in a week and a half. Coaches come and go like commuters. The so-called student-athlete becomes just the athlete after a year of so-called amateur competition.

    "Change is inevitable," Joe Girardi, back with the Yankees as a reserve catcher or a house broadcaster after a four-year absence. "My first year I was scrutinized, booed, because so many people loved Mike Stanley."

    Girardi's point: by the end of that season, 1996, they sure weren't booing him when he hit that huge triple off Greg Maddux in Game 6 of the World Series.

    Similarly, for one night in October, there was no bigger Yankee than Aaron Boone. Then again, had he put his bat on the ball against Florida's Braden Looper in the 11th inning of Game 4 with the lead run on third and the bases loaded, one out, and Mariano Rivera ready in the bullpen, the Yankees would probably have won the World Series, too.

    General Manager Brian Cashman, who had to break the news to Boone by phone and didn't relish the chore, nonetheless said it would have been foolish to keep Boone on the payroll, to surrender to sentimentality based on one home run.

    When Cashman was a kid, he rooted for the Dodgers. "They had the same infield for eight years — Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey," Cashman said. But that was a long time ago. That the Yankees of 1996 to 2001 had a most identifiable nucleus was, Jeter said, "a credit to our owner; we were spoiled."

    Aaron Boone, a one-hit wonder, was never a part of that, and for his winter blunder, he got the boot. With A-Rod here, Boone won't be mourned or missed. Conversely, Bernie Williams, a career-long Yankee who has always had a stomach for big games, got a bad break. If there is any sentiment left in sports, let it be saved for him. If he is going to lose his job, let it happen on the field.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #47

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    BIG difference between Aaron Boone (and to a lesser extent Soriano) and Bernie Williams.

    As evident to any Yankee fan, Williams is part of the core group that was here at the beginning of the run in '96. The others are Jeter, Posada, and Mariano. Although a player of great talent and potential, Soriano's departure is not the same as that of Pettitte, another original.

    Others in that group are David Cone (who started it with that '96 series win in Atlanta, with the Yanks down 2 games to none), Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, and Chuck Knoblach.

  3. #48

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    February 29, 2004

    WASHINGTON HEIGHTS

    Better Hide That Red Sox Cap Now That A-Rod Is Back in Town

    By SETH KUGEL


    A-ROD: The prodigal home run hitter returns to his birth city.

    Things can get heated in Washington Heights when the Yankees battle the Boston Red Sox, who feature Dominican superstars like the local favorite Manny Ramirez and the pitching ace Pedro Martínez. The neighborhood has long had a subversive streak, with a vocal Dominican-American minority forming a fifth column of Red Sox Nation deep in enemy territory.

    The arrival of Dominican-American megastar Alex Rodriguez, however, may test their Red Sox loyalty. A-Rod has only tenuous Washington Heights connections - he was born there, but moved to Florida as a preschooler - but that may be enough. The Spanish-language newspaper El Diario declared: "Washington Heights Waits for the Idol," described the neighborhood as "Alex's Barrio," and predicted that the building where he lived will become a destination for baseball pilgrims.

    Rodriguez, who will play third base for the Yanks, does put up the numbers that create pilgrims. He was the American League's most valuable player last year, and has led the league in homers each of the last three seasons. In interviews, many local Yankees fans claimed they had been devoted Rodriguez fans forever, even as he played out of the limelight for the struggling Texas Rangers.

    But they are not all telling the truth, according to Andres Zorrilla, the owner of Audubon Flats Fixed, a tire-repair shop half a block from A-Rod's first home on West 183rd Street. "Now that he has gone to the Yankees, his fame has expanded," Mr. Zorrilla said. "Before, Manny Ramirez was much more frequently mentioned."

    You practically trip over Ramirez's high school classmates here, while people with connections to A-Rod are rare. "He doesn't even remember living here too well," said Eduardo Gutierrez, a friend of the Rodriguez family.

    Still, it is Rodriguez's time, and many have found reasons to love both him and his work ethic. "People adore A-Rod because Manny has a very bad attitude," said Juan Carlos Ramirez, a former baseball player at George Washington High School, Ramirez's alma mater.

    On Thursday, even Mayor Bloomberg got into the act, declaring Rodriguez the greatest economic development project ever to come out of Washington Heights.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  4. #49

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    March 6, 2004

    Rodriguez Says He Feels as if He's at Disney World

    By JACK CURRY


    Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez tagging out the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, who was trying to advance from first on a hit to left field by Jason Michaels in the first inning.

    TAMPA, Fla., March 5 — Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter glided along the blue-carpeted hallway connecting the trainer's room to the clubhouse at Legends Field on Friday, moving like two high school jocks bound for the weight room. Rodriguez was a stride ahead, but he kept turning toward Jeter, kept working at ensuring that the conversation was on an equal level.

    It was an hour before they jogged onto the field for the first time together as Yankees. By then, Jeter was ahead of Rodriguez by a stride. The rest of the Yankees waited a second or two before following them. Whether the delay was by design or not, it was fitting.

    The real debut of the marquee left side of the infield will come in the season opener later this month, but the first dress rehearsal was still notable. Everything that Rodriguez and Jeter have done in spring training has been scrutinized, so finally seeing them side by side at third base and shortstop was an event.

    "It's like being at the All-Star Game, pretty much," first baseman Jason Giambi said. "Standing out there at first base, flipping it out to those guys, it's pretty incredible seeing them both over there. It's going to be a lot of fun this year, no doubt about it."

    The fun started with an exhibition game. Rodriguez handled a variety of plays smoothly, and Kenny Lofton, Jeter and Rodriguez all reached base before Giambi hit a grand slam. A six-run third inning helped the Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 7-5.

    As relieved as Giambi was to hit a homer off the left-hander Victor Alvarez — and temporarily steer the discussion away from performance-enhancing drugs — this might have been the first time in baseball history that a runner was happier about circling the bases than a batter. That smiling runner was Rodriguez.

    "When I was rounding there, I asked myself, `Where am I?' " Rodriguez said. "I felt like I was in Disney World."

    On a day when the Yankees had the Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Reggie Jackson in uniform, had parachutists land on the field, had a jet fly by and had two fireworks displays, maybe the little boy in Rodriguez was allowed to feel as if he were 71 miles away in Orlando.

    "It's pretty exciting," Rodriguez said. "I can't talk enough about the Yankees and what the Boss has built here. I'm caught in the middle of it and I just hope that I have a good seven years here."

    Rodriguez barely had time to perspire before Doug Glanville lashed Kevin Brown's second pitch of the game to third. Rodriguez backed up to try to field the chopper on a better hop, caught it near his chest and made a sidearm throw to first. Jimmy Rollins tried to test Rodriguez by bunting the next pitch, but he fouled it off. Rodriguez said charging in for the attempted bunt was the only time he felt uneasy.

    Rodriguez admitted that he never saw Jason Michaels's bullet down the third-base line later in the first, saying, "I don't think I can get that one in 200 games." Left fielder Hideki Matsui made a superb throw to Rodriguez to nail Rollins trying to take an extra base.

    After Rodriguez's busy first inning, he fielded two other grounders in the next four innings. Michaels smacked a shot that glanced off the palm of Rodriguez's glove, but Rodriguez kept the ball in front of him and easily recorded the out. It was only five innings, but it was a solid start for the new third baseman.

    "You look out there and you watch him and it's good body language," Manager Joe Torre said. "He's got a language to his body that looks like he's ready to play."

    Torre added, "He's too good an athlete to have a problem over there."

    The Yankees offered a glimpse of how devastating their lineup could be. Lofton walked, Jeter singled and Rodriguez walked off Kevin Millwood. Millwood fell behind Rodriguez, 3-0, but Rodriguez never thought about taking a free hack because he believes in the power of patience. The count stretched to 3-2 before Millwood walked Rodriguez.

    "I think you grind out at-bats; it's something that has a residual effect," Rodriguez said. "I like working the count. The more pitches you see, the better."

    The results could not have been better for the Yankees. Giambi pounded a pitch from Alvarez to right center. Giambi was the splashy player the Yankees added before the 2002 season, but he said the attention he received was minimal compared with what had been showered on Rodriguez.

    Jeter said: "Every year, it seems like we get some new guys to draw some buzz around the team. This year, it's probably a little bit more."

    Who might the Yankees add next year? Jeter paused before saying "Nomar," playfully tossing one more All-Star shortstop into the already crowded infield at baseball's version of Disney World.


    The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, left, and Derek Jeter during a pitching change Friday.


    A ground ball off the bat of the Phillies' Doug Glanville eluding new Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez on Friday.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  5. #50

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    March 7, 2004

    SPORTS OF THE TIMES

    Yankees' Best Move: Torre Through 2006

    By DAVE ANDERSON


    In Joe Torre's eight seasons as manager, the Yanks have won four World Series and six pennants.

    THE best thing to happen to the Yankees so far this year is not the presence of Alex Rodriguez at third base, as important as that is expected to be. The best thing to happen to the Yankees so far this year is the apparent assurance that Joe Torre will be the manager through the 2006 season.

    Although the terms of Torre's two-year extension have not been made final, George Steinbrenner has obviously approved its parameters by assigning Steve Swindal, his son-in-law and a Yankees general partner, to complete the details.

    Yankees loyalists should not worry that Torre's new deal will collapse. What Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, hath put together, no underling would dare put asunder — especially an underling who is that principal owner's son-in-law.

    In the Yankees' front office, the principal owner's wishes are the son-in-law's command. Not that Torre's job security should ever be shaky. In his eight seasons as manager, the Yankees have won four World Series and six American League pennants. But he knew that no matter how successful, Yankees managers have come and gone during the principal owner's tenure.

    "I wasn't even planning on thinking about it," Torre said Thursday, referring to an extension of his three-year, $16.5 million contract, which expires after this season. "But they presented it to me early on, and all of a sudden I started thinking, `Maybe they're not tired of me yet.' "

    Nor should "they," alias the principal owner, ever tire of him, but Torre knows that someday "they" surely will tire of him, just as in other eras the Yankees' management tired of Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy, each of whom managed seven World Series winners.

    Despite the loss of the Yankees' last two World Series, to the Florida Marlins last year and to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, maybe the principal owner finally realized how important Torre has been to the continuity of the Yankees' overall success. Maybe he also realized that if Torre were free to leave after this season, the hated Red Sox might pounce on him.

    Imagine if Torre were the manager of a Red Sox team that exorcised the Curse of the Bambino by winning a World Series for the first time since 1918 — Steinbrenner couldn't risk the humiliation of knowing he had allowed that to happen.

    Steinbrenner, like any bully, also developed a new respect for Torre when Torre, at a Yankees organizational meeting in Tampa, Fla., shortly after the World Series, confronted him about how the principal owner's meddling had been more public last season than in the past.

    "I talked about some of the things I didn't appreciate, as far as some of the statements and things that went on all year," Torre said at the time. "It was basically a one-sided conversation. The fact is, I said something I needed to say and did it, I like to believe, in a diplomatic way."

    One reason for Torre's longevity in the Yankee dugout has been his wisdom in keeping the principal owner's complaints to himself. Other managers, notably Billy Martin, talked openly about those complaints, which only tossed gasoline on the flames.

    Torre, as quietly tough as they come, has also never been afraid of the principal owner's firing him. He knows what being fired is. As the manager of the Mets, the Braves and the Cardinals, he was eventually fired, as virtually all managers are sooner or later. But even when Torre decided that he wanted to continue managing the Yankees past this season, he wisely waited to see if "they" wanted him.

    "I didn't want to do it last year," Torre said, "because I didn't want to put pressure on them, knowing that, publicly, they were probably stuck to do that. I did not want that to happen, because I wanted to know they wanted me here first."

    When "they" acknowledged wanting him, Torre suddenly had the leverage to seek the two-year extension for his cushioned seat and cup of green tea in the Yankee dugout. He knows how to manage the game. He knows how to manage ballplayers. More important, he knows how to manage the Yankees' principal owner. And he knows where he always wants to be in October.

    "It never gets old," he said during last year's World Series. "It can't. It's always different. My wife asked, `Let's walk away after '96; you got the World Series ring and all that.' But once you do it, you get the taste of it, you never take it for granted. The more you do it, the more satisfying and the better you feel about yourself, that you're able to do it. Because it's not easy to do."

    Even with a two-year extension.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  6. #51

  7. #52

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    March 8, 2004

    YANKEES 11, RED SOX 7

    Let the Jeering Begin

    By TYLER KEPNER


    Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra greeted the man who almost took his job this winter, Alex Rodriguez, who is now playing third for the Yankees.

    FORT MYERS, Fla., March 7 — A zealous fan with an independent T-shirt business approached the Boston Red Sox' president, Larry Lucchino, at City of Palms Park on Sunday morning. She gave Lucchino her business card and tried to sell him a shirt with Evil Empire printed on it.

    "I may buy a couple," said Lucchino, who has applied the term to the Yankees. "Christmas gifts."

    It's beginning to look a lot like baseball season. The Yankees met the Red Sox for the first time in 143 days, since Aaron Boone's famous homer touched down in the left-field seats in the Bronx. This was not October, not with a minor leaguer in the starting lineup and Mariano Rivera jogging in the outfield in the fourth inning. But it was a rivalry renewed, with feisty fans, about 250 members of the news media and $6 commemorative pins for sale.

    The fans booed Alex Rodriguez, the novice third baseman who nearly joined the Red Sox in December. They jeered Derek Jeter when he made a throwing error on the first play in the bottom of the first inning. But Jeter later thumped a homer to center field, helping the Yankees take an 11-7 victory before an overflow crowd of 7,304.

    Rodriguez hit two sharp grounders to shortstop, beating one out for an infield single, and he handled his only chance in his three innings in the field. He left the park in the middle of the game after addressing a swarm of reporters for the second time Sunday.

    "I think it's going to settle down," Rodriguez said, referring to the steady hype that has followed since his arrival three weeks ago. "I think the major craziness is behind us, and hopefully it'll taper down. We have a great team, so we can diversify the attention among 25 great players and a great manager, too."

    But Rodriguez is the focal point for now, along with Jeter, the captain who stayed at shortstop when Rodriguez joined the team. After booing Rodriguez his first time up, the fans eased off in his second at-bat. Rodriguez was not about to criticize the fans, some of whom camped out all night for standing-room tickets.

    "The Boston fans are incredible," he said. "A lot of New York fans were here, too. I just think East Coast fans are the best in baseball."

    Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, whose job Rodriguez sought before the players union vetoed his trade to Boston, hugged Rodriguez before the game. Garciaparra also hugged the Yankees' manager, Joe Torre, as well as Jeter, who has joked that the Yankees should sign Garciaparra next season and move him to second base. Garciaparra left the scene after that, missing the game with a bruised right heel.

    The Yankees did not bring Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield or Hideki Matsui, but they televised the game on the YES Network, and Lucchino noted that they used Rivera and other prominent players. "So it seems like they came to win, even though it's March 7," he said.

    The Yankees never apologize for winning. Rick Cerrone, the team's media relations director, pointed that out in a heated argument with a part-time Red Sox employee, Dave McHugh, in the players' parking lot when they got in each other's way. Cerrone noted that he worked for the "American League champion New York Yankees" and chided McHugh, who had pushed him, as a "typical Boston Red Sox employee."

    The Yankees won their third game in a row after losing their spring opener. They have scored 32 runs in the last three games, pummeling pitchers who will probably start the season in the minor leagues.

    Bronson Arroyo held the Yankees to one hit in the first three innings, but Jason Shiell gave up six runs in the fourth and the former Yankee Ed Yarnall allowed four in the sixth.

    The Yankees' starter, José Contreras, whose signing in December 2002 inspired Lucchino's "evil empire" comment, looked shaky. He gave up four runs in two innings, and, though three were unearned because of Jeter's error, the Red Sox hit him hard. Contreras repeatedly fell behind in the count and was forced to throw fastballs. The Red Sox pounced on him for five hits, including a homer by Pokey Reese.

    "He struggled a lot with his control, and with a team that hits the fastball as well as the Red Sox do, you just don't get away with it," Torre said.

    At least Contreras was healthy. Bothered by lower back stiffness last week, he said he felt fine Sunday but simply had little command. "I had good control in the bullpen," Contreras said through an interpreter. "When I got on the mound, I was strong, but I left it up in the zone and they connected."

    Torre and his Red Sox counterpart, Terry Francona, said they focused on the game and not the buzz in the stands. "If you told me that if we won this game, it would count, then I'd really get caught up in it," Francona said.

    But the hoopla was hard to miss, Francona conceded, and it was far from the quaint atmosphere that makes spring training so romantic. On the bus, Torre said, he turned to the pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and Yogi Berra and asked them a simple question, "Remember the days when you used to just go play a spring training game and nobody really cared?"

    Those days are gone, at least when the Yankees and the Red Sox get together. They play one more time, at Legends Field on March 24, before their regular-season wars begin April 16 at Fenway Park.

    "Nothing from spring training ends up on the back of your bubble-gum card," said the Yankees' Tony Clark, who homered twice Sunday. "But as much as anything else, you just know these two teams are going to be going head to head for a good chunk of the year."


    SPORTS OF THE TIMES

    Newest Mind Games in So-Called Game 8

    By GEORGE VECSEY

    FORT MYERS, Fla.

    FRATERNIZATION in vivid daylight: Nomar Garciaparra, wearing a bright-red warm-up shirt, meandered over to the batting cage and began hugging Yankees — Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Ruben Sierra, Derek Jeter.

    He even found Alex Rodriguez taking grounders at third base and hugged him, too.

    "Nomah," one fan shouted in horrified Boston patois. "Don't do that!"

    A Yankee fan taunted, "There's next year's second baseman," repeating the sick joke that Garciaparra, too, might switch positions and join the filthy-rich Yankees in the near future.

    As might be expected, the fans were not touched by gestures of solidarity among colleagues who have not seen each other since around midnight on Oct. 16.

    If anything, the rivalry has become even nastier because of certain events between these two organizations last fall and over the winter.

    "A-Rod only adds to it," Torre said.

    Last year, the Yankees and the Red Sox met 26 times, more than any two teams had ever played in one season. And the matter was not settled until very late in the 26th game, in, as Torre noted, extra innings.

    "Hey, Derek, how long before you're playing third base?" one Boston fan, perched behind the Yankees' dugout, asked.

    This is clearly a major theme of the verbal abuse to be directed from Boston fans toward Jeter this season, with those fans trying to drive a wedge between Jeter and his old buddy Rodriguez, now playing a few yards to Jeter's right.

    The relationship between Jeter and Rodriguez will be exploited in vile and personal ways. The fans booed Jeter hard during introductions and they booed Rodriguez even more.

    "Every year, it's something new," Jeter said while the Yanks wrapped up an anticlimactic 11-7 victory.

    The fans jeered as Jeter made a throwing error, after tracking down Gabe Kapler's grounder up the middle, on the very first play. The error led to three unearned runs, which added to the fans' glee. Jeter also whacked a two-run homer, Rodriguez shook his hand at home plate, and the Boston fans jeered.

    "It's always interesting when you play Boston," Jeter said, totally deadpan. "The fans are into it."

    Rodriguez, asked about his personal noise-o-meter for the day's razzing, said: "I get booed so often, I can't even gauge. I'll know more by the end of the summer."

    Yesterday became the instant cliché of Game 8, with Red Sox players like Manny Ramirez and Kevin Millar talking up the theory as they reported to work.

    The Yankees smirked at the very concept of a winner-take-all replay. They have their pennant. The Red Sox have their pain. And the dialogue commences all over again, meaner than ever.

    "Hopefully, there will be another Game 7 — and we'll be in it," Jeter said.

    Jeter understands that Red Sox fans normally try to play with his agile mind and that it will be infinitely worse this season because of A-Rod. Not only did Rodriguez not join the Red Sox, but he also exposed Garciaparra to being expendable, which left hard feelings, at least with the fans. That entire tango only makes it easier for Boston fans to blame the Yankees.

    Harry Seaholm of Natick, Mass., who was wearing a vintage Williams 9 shirt yesterday, muttered something that was close to being "damn Yankees."

    Seaholm has been around. He says he can remember the late 30's, and soon after when Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Dominic DiMaggio first became teammates.

    "I was over it after a couple of weeks," said Harry's brother, Ray Seaholm of Franklin, Mass., who was wearing a vintage Doerr 1 jersey.

    "We've been down this road before," Ray Seaholm said, adding, "It wasn't as bad as Bill Buckner," referring to the ghastly fumble that killed the Sox in 1986.

    The Boston fans have had all winter to dwell on the most recent insult. The Marshall family from Orange, Mass., is still twitching from watching Grady Little's unproductive stroll to the mound late on Oct. 16.

    "Aaaargh," said son, Andrew, wearing a Hillenbrand 29 shirt.

    "We were sure Grady was going to bring in Mike Timlin," recalled mother Kim, wearing a Red Sox Nation shirt.

    "I'm glad A-Rod didn't come over," said father Chris, wearing a Lowe 32 shirt. "I like Nomar."

    The family hit the jackpot via the Internet in early January, being allowed to buy a three-game ticket package that included this meeting with the Yankees in the early days of spring training.

    Tickets for this game were being offered at $500 on eBay, which did not exist when Joe Torre began managing a quarter-century ago.

    "Remember when we just played spring training games and nobody cared?" Torre asked a couple of older cronies.

    It's all different now. The stakes are higher. Memories are reinforced by midwinter flashbacks of Pedro and Zim, the desperate makeshift Yankee bullpen, Aaron Boone's midnight ramble.

    Now it begins all over again, 19 more games, maybe 7 more after that. Game 8 is over. It's a new and probably even nastier season.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  8. #53

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    A zealous fan with an independent T-shirt business approached the Boston Red Sox' president, Larry Lucchino, at City of Palms Park on Sunday morning. She gave Lucchino her business card and tried to sell him a shirt with Evil Empire printed on it.
    T-shirt seen at the game:

    AARON
    %#$*&^@
    BOONE

  9. #54

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    March 9, 2004

    Rodriguez's Sweet Swing Is Nothing New

    By JACK CURRY

    TAMPA, Fla., March 8 — Doug Mientkiewicz was the first Minnesota player to amble onto the field as the Yankees took batting practice Monday at Legends Field. He sat beside the batting cage as if he owned the plot of grass and studied Alex Rodriguez's sweet swing.

    "It looked like he didn't even swing," Mientkiewicz said after Rodriguez flicked a ball effortlessly to the right-field gap. "He's the best."

    Mientkiewicz knows that swing better than anyone else within 300 miles because he and Rodriguez were teammates at Westminster Christian High School in Miami. Their 1992 team was so talented that it was USA Today's top-ranked team and so deep that a dozen players were offered Division I scholarships, seven were picked in the amateur draft and three reached the major leagues.

    As difficult as it might be to fathom, Mientkiewicz, a senior that year, a year ahead of Rodriguez, said they were not even the two best players for Westminster in that glorious season.

    "I consider him the same tall, skinny kid I played high school baseball with," Mientkiewicz said. "I've never really asked him for anything. I try to keep it as level as I can when we see each other."

    Part of the reason Mientkiewicz looked so comfortable watching Rodriguez hit is that he had spent endless days doing the same thing in his backyard batting cage. Rodriguez and the other Westminster players turned the Mientkiewicz residence into their private practice field.

    Day or night, weekday or weekend, Mientkiewicz said Rodriguez and several other teammates would arrive with their aluminum bats. They would not stop at the front door; they would go straight to the cage, turning one invitation to take some hacks into an open invitation.

    "Alex was always at my house," Mientkiewicz said. "Our whole group was pretty close-knit. My house was the flophouse. Even if I didn't go out with those guys one night, they'd be there when I got home."

    Rodriguez was the quarterback and Mientkiewicz a tight end as Westminster nearly won a state football championship, a disappointing experience that inspired them to dominate in baseball a few months later, Rodriguez said. They did so in their only season together, Mientkiewicz having transferred to Westminster for his senior year.

    "Those were great times," Rodriguez said. "We were all 15, 16 years old, and we were playing sports all year-round. We went from football to basketball to baseball. That's all a kid wants to do."

    Mientkiewicz, now a 29-year-old Gold Glove first baseman, was a catcher in high school, and Rodriguez, 28, now an apprentice third baseman, played shortstop.

    Mientkiewicz said Rodriguez's excellence struck him only after he graduated.

    Mientkiewicz was at Florida State when he realized that some good college shortstops could not even get a glove on the shots that Rodriguez fielded flawlessly. Rodriguez, the first player selected in the 1993 amateur draft, was making intricate plays routinely as a 16-year-old.

    "You knew he was good, but how good was he?" Mientkiewicz said. "You just couldn't put it into words."

    In Minnesota's 13-2 victory over the Yankees on Monday, Mientkiewicz reached third base and said something to Rodriguez that made him smile.

    Although Mientkiewicz said they did not talk much these days, he added that they pick up the dialogue like old buddies whenever they see each other. Dan Perkins, another Westminster teammate, pitched for the Twins in 1999.

    Mientkiewicz predicted that the scrutiny in New York would not affect Rodriguez because he had been "under the microscope since he was 15 years old."

    As superb a player as Rodriguez is, Mientkiewicz said, he has a supporting cast and can pile up staggering statistics.

    "This is probably where he wanted to play all along," Mientkiewicz said. "It's kind of hard to say A-Rod won't be the focal point of the lineup, but he's got so many guys around him now. He can be one of the guys."

    To Mientkiewicz, Rodriguez will always be the kid who devoured sports and "always said the right thing and did the right thing."

    While baseball's king of cool now wears Armani suits, Mientkiewicz said, he was once fashion-challenged.

    "He thought he had style, but he didn't have style," Mientkiewicz said. "He'd come over to go out and we'd tell him he wasn't wearing that shirt. I'd have him take something from my closet. Now we're the exact opposite. Now I'm looking at him, like, let me wear that one time."

    Rodriguez smiled at Mientkiewicz's playful barbs and called him the king of quotes. But Rodriguez did not seem eager to lend Mientkiewicz any Armani in exchange for the free batting sessions.

    "Doug cannot talk about style," Rodriguez said. "That's one thing he can't talk about."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  10. #55

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    March 14, 2004

    Steinbrenner Rift Distanced Torre in 2003

    By TYLER KEPNER


    The Yankees and Joe Torre could agree to a new two-year contract before the team breaks camp on March 25.

    TAMPA, Fla., March 13 — The people closest to Joe Torre did not know the depths of his misery last season. They knew only that something was off about Torre, the Yankees' manager. His brother, Frank, said he looked haggard and preoccupied at times. His wife, Ali, never knew what bothered him the most.

    "I was really surprised that he felt that he wasn't wanted," Ali Torre said this week. "He didn't ever communicate that to me. I thought, how could they not want him, with all that he's achieved? I never even thought that was an issue. There must have been a big communication breakdown between him and upper management."

    There was, and it threatened to break up Torre and the Yankees, or — worse for George Steinbrenner, the principal owner — drive Torre to another team. That's what Frank Torre said he thought might happen after this season, the last on his brother's contract.

    "I didn't think he was going to give it up, but I wasn't so sure if he would manage here," Frank Torre said this week in the Yankees' dugout at Legends Field. "He definitely wanted to continue managing."

    Before the Yankees' first spring training game, Torre had another surprise for his family: he decided that he wanted to stay. Before the Yankees break camp on March 25, Torre and the team expect to have a two-year contract agreement that will keep him in pinstripes through 2006. Steve Swindal, a Yankees general partner and the son-in-law of Steinbrenner, said Torre would remain the highest-paid manager in baseball.

    It is a sudden turnaround for Torre, who won his sixth American League pennant last year in eight seasons with the Yankees but had little fun doing it. Steinbrenner's public criticism of the coaching staff in December 2002 stung Torre, who took it as a veiled personal attack. The cold war that followed left Torre thinking it was almost time to go.

    "I don't care how successful and how good things are, sometimes it just runs its course," Torre said. "And I sort of looked at it that way. They couldn't take anything away from me as far as how I felt about myself. But I certainly want the environment to be cooperative and friendly and trusting."

    Don Zimmer, Torre's bench coach and confidant, was a casualty of the feud, resigning after the World Series as a result of his bitterness with Steinbrenner. The players saw that Zimmer was gone and wondered if Torre would leave next.

    "I think we all didn't know," Jason Giambi said. "It was going to be interesting this year to see what was going to happen. I know last year wasn't easy for him. I used to tease him. I used to go up and give him a hug every day, see if he needed a hug.

    "But it's been fun walking into his office since we've gotten here. He's got big smiles; he's excited. It's fun to see that gleam."

    Torre had told his family that he would manage this season — the final year on his three-year, $16.5 million deal — then decide whether to continue. But on Feb. 16, Steinbrenner approached Torre at the Yankees' minor league complex and asked if he planned to come back.

    It was the day the trade for Alex Rodriguez became official, and Steinbrenner was in a buoyant mood. He greeted Torre at the Tampa airport the next day, after Torre flew back from the Rodriguez news conference in New York. He visited Torre again in his office the next day. The addition of Rodriguez seemed to restore the spirit of both men.

    "That Rodriguez trade, if you're human, it's like getting a pint of blood," Frank Torre said. "It's got to hype you up quite a bit."

    Steinbrenner said through his publicist, Howard Rubenstein, that he had always supported Torre and believed that they shared the same goals. "Even though there might have been some bumps in the road, he's the right guy to come back," Steinbrenner said.

    Whatever Steinbrenner's impetus for approaching Torre, the gesture made an enormous impact. The two had almost no communication in 2003, and Torre remembered only one visit by Steinbrenner to his office, the day after six Houston Astros pitchers combined for a no-hitter at Yankee Stadium. The silent treatment wore on Torre.

    "There were times, even under the best conditions — the team was in first place — that he would be very distant," Frank Torre said. "You could tell there were things bothering him, and that's unusual. When he's around his uniform and around the ballpark, that's almost his home. That's his life."

    Steinbrenner was not the only one responsible for the icy relationship; Torre let the problems fester. Ali Torre remembers asking him to reach out, to make the first move. It was Joe's profession, she recalls thinking, and she did not push the issue. But she knew the silence was unhealthy.

    "I didn't understand how you carry on a business that way, without communicating with the person who's working for you and you're working for," she said. "I think it caused a lot of added, unnecessary stress."

    Torre, 63, is five years removed from prostate cancer surgery. He works out five days a week during the season, drinks green tea, watches his diet and says he understands the dangers of stress. But, he said, "I get involved in the baseball season, and I really don't think in terms of what it's doing to me."

    Torre's family worried for him. Late in the season, Ali Torre said, she sensed her husband's frustration and worried about the toll the stress was taking.

    "I suggested he consider stepping down or quitting, because his health is the most important thing," she said. "I just suggested he think about it, maybe go to a less stressful situation than New York where he wouldn't have the demands he has here. Just think about other options."

    Torre has often said that if he were to retire, he would not have the chance to come back. That is debatable: the Marlins' Jack McKeon is older than Torre and came out of retirement to beat him in the last World Series. But Torre said he would have considered leaving for another job if he found that he still enjoyed managing in 2004.

    One option Torre did not take is a power play. Steinbrenner's criticism of the coaches was the closest he could come to a direct swipe at Torre, who is widely perceived to be untouchable, even by a famously rash owner. Torre could have campaigned for an extension and probably received it, but he wanted Steinbrenner to make the first move.

    Now that Torre is extending his stay, he is charged with guiding the star power Steinbrenner has added to the clubhouse. The roster will include 12 players added since October, including the established All-Stars Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown and Kenny Lofton.

    Torre's résumé as a player — he was the 1971 National League most valuable player — and as a manager gives him obvious credibility with new players. But he earns their respect with his management style.

    "He's got the ability to get his best players to play," said Scotty Bowman, who won nine Stanley Cups as an N.H.L. coach and visited Torre in Tampa last month. "As a coach or a manager, you know that your best players have to be out on the field or the ice. You don't have to pal around with them, but you have to have a good working relationship. The great players need help sometimes."

    Giambi, for one, has been dealing with questions about his link to a steroid scandal. Torre pulled Giambi aside early in camp and talked to him about it, a gesture that Giambi said "means a ton."

    Torre said his job was easier because the new players chose to play in New York. Sheffield and Lofton were free agents, and Rodriguez and Brown waived no-trade clauses. Sheffield immediately impressed Torre by pointing to his World Series ring and saying he wanted one. When Torre reminded Sheffield he had a ring from the 1997 Marlins, Sheffield said he wanted one with the NY logo.

    "They're confident people, they have egos, but in order to want to come to the Yankees, the purpose is winning," Torre said. "Being associated with a winner is very important to them, and that has to come from within. I have nothing to do with that."

    Even if Torre achieves clubhouse harmony — and there are no early signs of fractures — the mandate is always a championship. Anything less could provoke Steinbrenner into more mind games and cause Torre the kind of stress that so worried his family. Torre and his wife have a young daughter, Andrea, and Ali might have expected to have her husband home by now. But she would never ask him to give up his career, she said, under one condition. "As long as he can manage the stress, I'm fine," she said.

    Steinbrenner said his relationship with Torre was as strong as ever, but he has made no promises that he will change. High anxiety is part of the job for any Yankees manager, even one as powerful as Torre.

    But the question that caused him the most stress has been answered, and will be confirmed when Torre signs his new contract. The job may be hazardous to his health, but as Torre soaks in the good vibes from an unrelenting boss, there is no place he would rather be.

    "I'm not worried about it; it'll get done," Torre said. "But it doesn't concern me and I'm not questioning whether they want me here. I'm pretty comfortable with that."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  11. #56

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    April 16, 2004

    Someone New for Red Sox Fans to Boo

    By JACK CURRY

    Alex Rodriguez wanted to play for the Boston Red Sox and feel the passion that permeates every nook and cranny of Fenway Park and most nooks and crannies of the city. Rodriguez was prepared to surrender $28 million to restructure his contract, escape his bleak existence with the Texas Rangers and call Boston his baseball home.

    But an unfathomable path detoured Rodriguez from being traded to the Red Sox and turned him into a Yankee. Rodriguez will get to experience the passion of Boston fans this season, but it will not be in the form he once desired. It will be in a verbal volcano of scorn, starting tonight, when the teams meet for the first time.

    A-Rod could have been one of us, the Red Sox fans say, but now he is one of those despicable Yankees. Once that happened, regardless of Boston's missteps in allowing it to happen, Rodriguez became the latest, greatest pariah in pinstripes.

    "That's basically the indoctrination when you wear this uniform," Manager Joe Torre said. "There's no gray area. They either love you or hate you."

    Bet hate on Rodriguez. Bet big. Rodriguez is still so new to this rivalry that he actually used "we" while discussing the Red Sox and the possibility that he might have been playing for them this weekend.

    Rodriguez figured he would replace Nomar Garciaparra. He thought Magglio Ordóñez would be acquired from the Chicago White Sox to replace Manny Ramirez and he dreamed that Boston would idolize him and Curt Schilling as they helped the Red Sox finally slay the Yankees.

    "I thought, for sure now, we got a chance to win," he said, referring to his near relocation to Boston. "We got the right team."

    The right team for Rodriguez proved to be the Yankees, and that means, from a Red Sox standpoint, he is obviously on the worst possible team. Fans in Boston are already wearing T-shirts that use an obscenity to demean Rodriguez and they may shower him with as much abuse as they direct at Derek Jeter. Well, maybe not that much.

    "Derek is the most hated man in Boston," catcher Jorge Posada said. "It's him and Bucky Dent. I think they hate Derek more than Bucky. Aaron Boone was one game. It's all the time with Derek."

    Jeter is the Yankee strolling around Fenway Park with what seems like a "Boo Me Forever" label above the No. 2 on his back. Jeter doubted that he would serve as an umbrella for Rodriguez, guessing there would be enough healthy lungs in the house to bury one more villain.

    "They've been on me for years," Jeter said.

    Rodriguez, who was booed in Seattle after leaving for a 10-year, $252 million contract with Texas before the 2001 season, will be booed in Boston for being considered a traitor. But Rodriguez dismissed the mention of earplugs or the thought that the negative noise matters.

    "I always felt that it was a compliment to get booed on opposing ground anyway," Rodriguez said.

    Of course, beyond the booing, there will be baseball. The Red Sox and the Yankees will play the first 4 of 19 games through Monday and 3 at Yankee Stadium next weekend. After the Yankees snared last season's series, 10-9, they won a thrilling American League Championship Series on Boone's homer off Tim Wakefield in Game 7. Although the Marlins defeated the Yankees in the World Series, that is sometimes treated like a footnote in the Northeast.

    Kevin Millar, who favored Rodriguez over Garciaparra when it looked as if Rodriguez was bound for the Red Sox, said, "It's not like you needed any more fuel on the fire, but, with the whole A-Rod thing, it's going to make it unbelievable."

    The can-you-top-this flavor of the off-season and the war of words between the owners has added juicy elements to the tussle.

    John Henry, the principal owner of the Red Sox, sent an e-mail message to reporters in February about the need for a salary cap because the Yankees had "gone so insanely far beyond" the financial capabilities of other teams. George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, quickly reacted by saying Henry must feel embarrassed for not being able to get Rodriguez for the fans and implored him to "get on with life and forget the sour grapes."

    The Yankees were actively pursuing Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks before the Red Sox were, but Boston secured him. The Red Sox were the favorites, by far, to get Rodriguez, but the Yankees wound up with perhaps the best player in baseball. "You saw how these teams hate each other and the impact one team has over the other," Gary Sheffield said.

    Besides Schilling and Rodriguez, the Yankees and the Red Sox have revised their teams since Wakefield's fateful knuckleball, with the Yankees having a bigger facelift. Javier Vazquez, who opposes Wakefield tonight, and Kevin Brown were added to the rotation, Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill joined the bullpen and Sheffield is the right fielder for the $183 million Yankees.

    The Red Sox signed closer Keith Foulke to calm a beleaguered bullpen and added second baseman Pokey Reese, who is playing shortstop while Garciaparra is out with an injury to his Achilles' tendon. Outfielder Trot Nixon (back) is also on the disabled list for the $125 million Red Sox. Pedro Martínez pitched on Thursday so the Yankees were not scheduled to face him in the series.

    The two American League East teams with the highest payrolls in baseball stress that they worry about their own business, but they always peek at what their rivals are doing, too. Especially Steinbrenner.

    "He loves to compete," Boston's Ellis Burks said. "And, if it takes going after the same guys that the Red Sox want, believe me, he's going to up the ante a little to rub it in our faces. It's one of those competitive things that will continue until the Red Sox knock them off their pedestal and become the reigning champs."

    Rodriguez was supposed to help the Red Sox knock the Yankees off that pedestal, but, instead, he ended up in New York. He ended up on the other side of the rivalry, which might as well be the other side of the world. Torre smiled as he explained how the historians in Fenway might forget that Rodriguez was not to blame for his aborted trip to Boston.

    "No one really wants to know the real reason," Torre said. "It's just the fact that he's not there."

    This weekend, Rodriguez is here. Just not in the uniform Boston wanted him to be wearing.

    Ken Powtak in Boston contributed reporting for this article.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  12. #57

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    New York Times
    April 20, 2004

    Rodriguez Awaiting That Big Hit
    By JACK CURRY

    BOSTON, April 19 — Alex Rodriguez was the last Yankee still talking, the last Yankee still standing and the last Yankee to leave the clubhouse at Fenway Park. Rodriguez was dressed in a navy blue suit, looking like a C.E.O. and talking like one, promising that his unsettling performance this season would change, and soon.

    Do not let them see you sweat. That could have been Rodriguez's motto as he talked of how his first visit to Boston as a Yankee was a disappointing, yet minor part of a long and potentially splendid season. There are other crucial trips ahead, five and a half months for the Rodriguez market to have an upswing.

    This unhappy four-game series in Boston ended for the Yankees with an ugly 5-4 loss to the Red Sox on Monday, a game that featured Rodriguez's throwing error that allowed the tying run to score in the seventh inning and still more tepid at-bats. Rodriguez ended his afternoon by sliding his batting gloves across the dugout roof to a young fan. Perhaps the kid will collect more hits with them than Rodriguez did.

    Two hits with the gloves would give the kid the edge. Before Rodriguez lined a single in the ninth inning, he was 0 for Boston. Rodriguez was impatient and out of sync, lunging for pitches that he should have crushed or simply avoided. The man who might be the best player in baseball spent four days in enemy territory as one of the worst hitters in baseball, going 1 for 17.

    "I don't think anything in my career can compare to this," said Rodriguez, referring to the combination of high expectations and awful results. "But I've been through these types of situations a lot, and I don't consider them struggling. I believe I'm always going to go out and do my thing."

    Rodriguez stayed cool and confident as he discussed the impostor who was wearing his uniform and making look him so vulnerable. There were doses of humor, too. When Rodriguez was asked about his first 16 at-bats at Fenway being futile, he said: "Is that what it was, O for 16? It felt like 0 for 50."

    Actually, for the season, he is 8 for 50, which translates to a dismal .160 batting average. The 28-year-old Rodriguez acknowledged that he might be trying to do too much in his new environment to show the Yankees he is as good as everyone believes he is. Rodriguez so desperately wanted to play for the Yankees that he switched from shortstop to third base and now he wants to verify that he is one of their superstars, too.

    How else to explain Bronson Arroyo, an unimposing pitcher with nine career victories, using off-speed pitches to silence Rodriguez? Arroyo struck out Rodriguez with changeups twice and also retired him on two groundouts. Rodriguez acted as if he were waving at a marble attached to a string after he missed three straight pitches in the sixth.

    "Sometimes, you catch guys at the right time," Boston Manager Terry Francona said. "He might be a completely different player three, four days from now. I hope he isn't."

    But Rodriguez believes he will be. Don Mattingly, the Yankees' batting coach, said he was waiting for Rodriguez "to exhale." Mattingly meant Rodriguez needs one at-bat where everything is perfect, similar to Jason Giambi's game-winning, extra-inning grand slam that beat the Minnesota Twins on a rainy night at Yankee Stadium on May 17, 2002. The hit helped Giambi, then finding his way in his first season in New York, settle in. Rodriguez, who has just one home run this season, could use a game-winning hit, too.

    "It's his first time in New York," Mattingly said of Rodriguez. "I don't care where you have been. He's got some enormous expectation and pressure. That's something you don't wish on anybody."

    Mattingly said the adjustment period in New York was different from that in other major league cities. When Mattingly signed a five-year, $19.3 million extension with the Yankees in 1990, he was already the most popular player on the team, but that did not keep him from trying to validate being the highest-paid player in baseball. So imagine what Rodriguez is going through.

    "They've been building him up, and you know the New York style," Mattingly said. "We're going to build him up as high as we can get him; we're going to get the Trump building going on with the guy, and boy, if he doesn't live up to that Trump building, he's going to be. . . . "

    Mattingly did not finish the sentence, but the point was clear. Rodriguez, to borrow Mattingly's imagery, is going to be where he has tumbled to now, answering questions about why he is hitting so poorly and why the Red Sox, the team he nearly joined in the off-season, baffled him for four straight days. The questions will stop when Rodriguez starts hitting, and, for now, he does not seem too worried about a sputtering start to a season in which less than 10 percent of the games have been played.

    "I just have an enormous amount of confidence," Rodriguez said. "No matter if I'm 0 for 30, I want that at-bat and I want to be in that situation."

    As if Rodriguez's offensive futility was not exasperating enough, he was also involved in a sloppy defensive play in the seventh. With runners on first and third, Rodriguez fielded David Ortiz's check-swing grounder, double-pumped because Enrique Wilson was slow to cover second, then whipped the ball past second base into the outfield. Rodriguez thought he could have turned a double play. Instead, the Red Sox tied the score, 4-4, and went ahead to stay an inning later.

    Still, Rodriguez made another joke about how the high school quarterback in him figured he could make a seamless throw. He kept chatting amiably about his listless start until departing for the team bus. Rodriguez knows more about the A-Rod market than anyone, and he is confident his drought will vanish.

    "With the kind of player that I am, I feel like within one swing, I can get it back and get that feel back," he said. "That's what I'm searching for. I'm going to get it."

  13. #58
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    A-Rod, get your head out of your ass.

  14. #59

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    April 21, 2004

    SPORTS OF THE TIMES

    It's About Finding a Zone, Not Zen for Rodriguez

    By DAVE ANDERSON


    According to his performance coach, Alex Rodriguez can just put his 1-for-17 performance in Boston out of his mind and turn his focus to Chicago.

    HE'S the back door to Alex Rodriguez's inner sanctum. His name is Jim Fannin, who describes himself as a performance coach. Once a touring tennis pro, he's now a 54-year-old sports savant who turned his psychology and marketing degree at East Tennessee State into a career, since 1977, as a motivational consultant for professional athletes and corporate executives.

    In addition to Rodriguez, with whom he has worked since 1996, Fannin's dozens of baseball clients include Randy Johnson, Jim Thome, Carlos Delgado, Mike Cameron, Magglio Ordóñez, Frank Thomas, Derek Lowe, Mike Timlin and Pokey Reese.

    When Rodriguez arrived with the Yankees on Monday night in Chicago, not far from Fannin's suburban home, the timing could not have been better for their sit-down session, because Rodriguez had seldom been worse. While the Yankees were losing three of four to the rival Red Sox in Boston, baseball's best all-around player, alias A-Rod, went 0 for 16 before a ninth-inning single in the final game.

    "Is that what it was, 0 for 16?" Rodriguez calmly told reporters in the Yankees clubhouse after Monday's loss. "It felt like 0 for 50."

    Rodriguez and Fannin had dinner together Monday night at a steakhouse in downtown Chicago, then talked some more at the Yankees' hotel.

    And over the telephone yesterday morning, Fannin insisted that Rodriguez's confidence was "not even remotely rattled" by what happened at Fenway Park.

    "His belief is my belief," Fannin said. "He doesn't think negatively."

    Before last night's game with the White Sox, Rodriguez declined to discuss his relationship with Fannin, saying, "That's kind of my personal stuff."

    Going into last night's game, Rodriguez was batting a dismal .160 — 8 hits in 50 at-bats, including 12 strikeouts. After going 3 for 6 against the White Sox last night, he is at .196.

    "Superstars don't think like everyone else," Fannin said. "The average person has 2,000 to 3,000 thoughts a day, and 60 percent of the average person's thoughts are in chaos. The superstar has 1,100 to 1,300 thoughts a day. They eliminate worry, envy, jealousy, embarrassment and anger. The superstar thinks a lot less and holds a thought longer."

    But wasn't 0 for 16 on Rodriguez's mind?

    "No, it's on your mind, it's on everybody else's mind," Fannin said. "It's not on his mind."

    Wasn't he worried?

    "You can only worry when your thoughts are anchored in the past, which causes you to imagine the future. Alex is fine, period."

    Fannin said that he liked to talk to each of his clients once a day and that he tried to see them in person once a month.

    "I have a system for attracting what I call, `the Zone,' " he said. "It helps athletes get disciplined. It improves their concentration."

    That's Zone, not Zen. In Fannin's promotional brochure, the Zone is defined as "the moment your mind operates completely in the now."

    "You're on automatic pilot," it says. "In the now, your subconscious mind takes over your conscious thoughts. Your pulse quickens. The adrenaline flows. Your eyes double or triple their shutter speed to give you the illusion that everything around you is in slow motion.

    "You possess super strength. You are graceful, with uncanny balance, and you appear effortless as you move. Your sixth sense of intuition is armed and operating with supreme knowing. You think with clarity and intelligence. You have the feeling of a purposeful calm, when nothing can go wrong."

    To attract the Zone, as Fannin says, he uses what he calls the Score Performance System.

    "S for self-discipline," he said, "C for concentration, O for optimism, R for relaxation, E for enjoyment. Then I tailor it for each individual."

    But how does he react when, for example, one of his hitters has to bat against one of his pitchers?

    "I root for the pitcher to win the game with a four-hitter — my hitter getting the four hits," he said.

    After coaching several tennis players, including Peter Fleming, who won a total of seven Wimbledon and United States Open doubles titles, Fannin began working with baseball players, mostly members of the White Sox, in 1989. Joey Cora, traded to Seattle by the White Sox, introduced Fannin to Rodriguez in 1996.

    "With Alex, what you see is what you get," Fannin said. "Good guy, the same guy every day, hard-nosed. He's a very cerebral player who doesn't mind getting dirty. It's hard to look at him and say he's a blue-collar guy, but he's got a blue-collar work ethic."

    In Fannin's brochure, Rodriguez is quoted as saying, "The Score system has been a very big part of my development and the type of numbers I had in my career thus far. It can get you in the Zone. It's worked for me since 1996."

    And the Yankees third baseman known as A-Rod is sure that, sooner or later, he will return to that Zone.


    Rodriguez's Dry Spells Never Last

    By TYLER KEPNER

    CHICAGO, April 20 - Alex Rodriguez has been through worse before, when he was 24 years old and playing out the string of a losing season with the Seattle Mariners. In September 1999, Rodriguez had five hits in a stretch of 58 at-bats, finally breaking loose with a grand slam in front of his mother in Tampa Bay.

    Until then, Rodriguez was mortified. "It's inexcusable, and quite honestly, it's embarrassing," he said the day before his grand slam. "It's been probably the biggest struggle I've had in my young career."

    Rodriguez's career has come a long way since then, of course, and when he struggled for the Mariners, few people paid much attention. When Rodriguez showed up at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday, lugging an 8-for-50 resume as a Yankee, dozens of reporters quickly surrounded him. In 1999, Rodriguez was confident that his work ethic and talent would lead him out of the slump, and he is the same way now. But Rodriguez denied that he is in much of a slump.

    "I never feel that I'm struggling," Rodriguez said. "I really don't. Every day's a new day, every pitch is a new pitch. I don't think struggle or slump are even words in my vocabulary. It's nothing one game can't fix."

    The slump may not be over, but Rodriguez had three singles in six at-bats in Tuesday’s 11-8 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

    “I just saw the ball better,” he said. “It all starts with seeing the ball.” In the first inning, Rodriguez saw an opportunity. There were no outs with runners at first and second and Jason Giambi up next. Rodriguez noticed the positioning of the White Sox’s third baseman, Joe Crede, and dropped a bunt.

    “We’re in survival mode right now,” Rodriguez said. “We needed a win. Jason is swinging the bat well, and I saw Crede was back. I thought it was a no-lose situation to get the runners over and load the bases for Jason.” The result was better than he hoped. The bunt went for a single, and the Yankees scored their first run on Crede’s throwing error.

    Rodriguez had studied video on a laptop with hitting coach Don Mattingly before the game. They analyzed Rodriguez's swings during the Boston series, in which he went 1 for 17, and watched tape of Tuesday's starter for the White Sox, Mark Buehrle.

    Mattingly acknowledged that Rodriguez is lifting his leg too late when he prepares to swing, seconding an analysis by Harold Reynolds on ESPN. Rodriguez said he had not seen the Reynolds piece, but added, "I don't think there's anything wrong."

    Manager Joe Torre disagreed. "He's not comfortable, by any stretch of the imagination," Torre said. Rodriguez is also flying open with his front shoulder, Torre said, committing to pitches too soon and robbing himself of power the opposite way.

    "When he's hitting the ball well consistently, he's going to hit his fair share of balls to right center," Torre said.

    The Mariners said the same thing as Rodriguez scuffled in 1999, and when Rodriguez broke out of the slump, his homer sailed over the center field fence, 418 feet away.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  15. #60

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    May 16, 2004

    Making the Grade Learning a New Role

    By JACK CURRY


    The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, who is playing third base for the first time since switching from shortstop, is on pace to make only 10 errors this year in his new role.

    Alex Rodriguez never budged from third base on shots drilled toward the pitcher's mound, properly figuring there was no way he could help corral a ball that was speeding in a different direction several feet from him. He thought he should remain anchored near third, a position he is still learning.

    But after Rodriguez fielded a bullet that deflected off Kevin Brown and caromed to him last Tuesday, Luis Sojo offered him the latest lesson in Playing Third Base 101. The specifics of the advice proved just how advanced Rodriguez has become. For Rodriguez, Third Base 101 has swiftly escalated into Third Base for Future Gold Glove Winners.

    Sojo, who was a slick-fielding major leaguer and is now the third-base coach for the Yankees, told Rodriguez that he should never be flatfooted. Sojo implored Rodriguez to rush toward the pitcher when a ball is laced in that area because being in motion will put him in better fielding position.

    "You have to attack like you're going to go catch the ball up the middle," Rodriguez said. "And if the ball ricochets, it could come right to you. Those are little things that come with time. That's very intricate. That's the next level."

    The next level of playing third has already arrived for Rodriguez. There are probably major league third basemen who will never be good enough or smart enough to worry about how to react in the milliseconds before balls rattle off pitchers, a freakish sort of play that Rodriguez said had happened four or five times this season and a play that happens so rarely it could be ignored.

    But Rodriguez, a neophyte third baseman in games only, is good enough and smart enough to be focusing on the minute aspects of a position he is mastering at a rapid rate. Rodriguez has looked almost as comfortable at his new position as he used to look at shortstop. He is leading all third basemen in the American League in total chances and made only his third error yesterday. He is on pace for 13 1/2 errors, an impressively low number, and, if he stays this consistent, could fashion one of the best defensive debut seasons by a third baseman in baseball history.

    "He's a student," Sojo said. "He studies the game. It's like he's going to school every day. If he has a test next week, he's not going to forget what you told him. Since I told him, he's been talking about that play every day."

    It will take 100 games to feel relaxed about the shift from shortstop to third, said Cal Ripken Jr., who made the same change. One hundred games before Rodriguez feels comfortable about having glided about 50 feet to his right and about 20 feet closer to the batter. Rodriguez never disputed Ripken's estimate, but he has lampooned it with his steady and sometimes dazzling defense.

    Rodriguez has been smooth while charging in for slow rollers, he has used his quick feet to move well laterally, he has used his soft hands to handle the tricky in-between hops, he has shown terrific instincts in making diving plays and he has used his strong arm to help rescue him on close plays. He has become acclimated to third in a third of the time that Ripken expected. Or less.

    "It took him five games in spring training," Sojo said.

    Jason Giambi, a lumbering first baseman who is actually a former third baseman, said, "I noticed how good he was the first day of spring training."

    Even Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame catcher, said, "He's surprised a lot of people, I think."

    Rodriguez credited nine seasons at shortstop as the perfect preparation for tackling third because there is no play he did not have to handle at short. That deep background as the most important player in the infield allowed the 28-year-old Rodriguez to shuffle to another demanding position with confidence and grace.

    The Navy Seal crazy workout, Rodriguez's name for a spring routine that began with dozens of monotonous grounders at 8 a.m., also helped him physically and mentally in the transition. He thinks and acts like a third baseman now, too.

    "I can honestly say there's not one inch of appetite for shortstop," Rodriguez said. "I thought I would miss playing shortstop more and I really haven't. I've been so consumed with trying to be the best third baseman I can be. That's a part of this that has really surprised me."

    Sojo said that Rodriguez told Manager Joe Torre that if shortstop Derek Jeter ever sustained a major injury, the Yankees should not approach him about filling in because he is committed to third.

    "Since he's been playing third, he's totally forgotten about shortstop," Sojo added. "He said, `Listen, I'm the Yankees' third baseman and I want to be the best third baseman in the world.' "

    Both Sojo and Willie Randolph, the Yankees' bench coach and another former infielder, said Rodriguez could be all-World, but there are still some aspects of playing the new position that he has to refine.

    Randolph said Rodriguez must read balls better off the bat and get quicker jumps on moving toward them. Sojo said Rodriguez sometimes plays too close to the third-base line, which is natural because he is worried about lasers flying by him into the left-field corner.

    When Rodriguez is creeping in close for a possible bunt with one strike, Sojo said he occasionally backpedals to a normal depth prematurely and reveals his positioning to the hitter. Randolph added that Rodriguez needs to become as adroit at charging in for rollers so that making the plays will feel as routine as throwing the ball around the horn.

    "It's getting comfortable with things," Randolph said. "It's not `Can he or can't he do it?' Once he got used to the angles, the speed of the ball and being comfortable with being in, I knew he'd do what he's doing right now."

    One thing Rodriguez is doing is giving Oakland's Eric Chavez formidable competition for the American League Gold Glove. Chavez has won the last three at third while Rodriguez has snared the last two at shortstop. Rodriguez said the award is a distant goal and not something he dwells on. Others think he could dwell on it.

    "Chavez and those guys are Gold Glove third baseman, but, to me, A-Rod is right there right now," Randolph said.

    Giambi, Chavez's former teammate, added: "I've watched Chavey play and he's won the Gold Glove for a couple of years. A-Rod's made all of the plays. He's playing at that level."

    On Chavez's first day of spring training, he smiled when he was quizzed about Rodriguez's becoming a third baseman and said: "There goes my fourth Gold Glove Award. So much for the All-Star Game, too."

    Chavez, whom the A's converted from shortstop after drafting him in 1997, said it took him four years to learn the position. Interestingly, Chavez feels third is the tougher position because of the different depths a third baseman has to play and the scant reaction time.

    "Alex has adjusted to the position a lot quicker than I thought he would," Chavez said. "There are so many angles and so many spins and so many topspins. But he looks confident over there, like he's been there a long time."

    Rodriguez was sitting in the players' lounge during a rain delay when Sojo told him about reacting to balls near the mound last Tuesday. Sojo thought about telling him a few days earlier, but did not want to burden Rodriguez with such a snippet of advice. Rodriguez chided Sojo and instructed him not to withhold any more wisdom. He is a third baseman now. He needs to know everything.

    "You know what makes him so good?" Sojo said. "Even though he knows he's a superstar and we all know that he's a superstar, he wants to learn about this game every single day. He's amazing."

    Susan Slusser contributed reporting for this article.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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