Let's not call him 'ALaud' quite yet, but for Alex Rodriguez, so far so good in his first steps as he integrates back into life with the New York Yankees.
Fans may still call him 'A-Rod,' and the critics and the cynics and all the heroes in Cooperstown will likely still refer to him as 'A-Roid,' but Rodriguez needs to be given credit for how he is handling his return to baseball. After a year-long suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), Rodriguez has said all the right things and has handled himself the right way.
And yet old habits kick in and we continue to jeer him.
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On Monday, Rodriguez showed up to spring training with his new/old teammates, a year removed from the last time he played baseball in pinstripes. He was three days early, leading to an outrage from the media that he was still playing by his own rules. But in arriving early, Rodriguez limited the circus-like affair surrounding his return to the team. And in doing so, he spared his teammates a bit of grief. For the first time in his career, Rodriguez was thinking about someone other than himself and his big, old massive sense of self-worth.
There's still plenty to despise about Rodriguez, the poster boy of an era of baseball where the only thing bigger than his paycheck were his steroid-infused forearms. But Rodriguez has done right by his team and his teammates. He took one for the team on Monday, facing the media so that the rest of the locker room wouldn't face the crush a couple days later.
And he answered the questions, not dodging any, but instead being diligent in his responses. He didn't make excuses, even as he got beaned by question after question, so that come Wednesday the rest of the team could focus on a return to the postseason.
He is a victim of his own largess, his own un-likeability. There's no denying that Rodriguez has been a selfish player throughout his career, but perhaps, finally, he has started acting like a man. And still, the first instinct here is to criticize 'A-Rod' for being selfish again?
Truth be told, simply because he's Alex Rodriguez, the man who one time opted out of his contract before a World Series game.And here we are now, watching something unfold in Rodriguez's career that should be lauded and not scorned. Perhaps it is his coming of age, his maturation not just as one of the greatest infielders in the history of the game but as a man, and dare we say a role model.
Built into all of us is a healthy disdain for Rodriguez and all the wrong things he embodies. But on Monday morning in Tampa, Rodriguez - for the first time in his career - stepped up to the plate and did the right thing not just by himself, but by his teammates.
It was finally a reason to stand up and cheer for Rodriguez. 'A-Laud,' at least for one day.