TAMPA, Fla. — Alex Rodriguez reported to the New York Yankees three days ahead of schedule. He spoke for 8 1/2 minutes about his season-long drug suspension.
But on his first day back with the team since September 2013, he never said why he resumed the use of performance-enhancing drugs, never explained what he did and avoided getting into any specifics.
“I cringe when I look at some of things I did,” Rodriguez said, surrounded by about 40 reporters on the sidewalk outside the Yankees minor league complex.
“No mistake that I made has any good answer, no justification. It’s unexplainable, and that’s on me. I’ve dug a big hole for myself. Paid a price.”
New York asked him to hold a pre-spring training news conference at Yankee Stadium, but Rodriguez declined. The Yankees told them they didn’t want him holding one at Steinbrenner Field, where they felt it would be a distraction.
So Rodriguez improvised.
Wearing a green University of Miami sweatsuit, he arrived at Steinbrenner Field on Feb. 23d morning for his physical, three days before the first workout for Yankees’ position players. Shortly before 1 p.m., he showed up at the minor league complex, a little less than 1 mile away, carrying what appeared to be a tan bat box.
After changing into Yankees’ shorts, a T-shirt and a spring training cap, Rodriguez worked out for about an hour. He hit six home runs in 71 swings and took grounders at shortstop.
Yankees Manager Joe Girardi and General Manager Brian Cashman say Chase Headley will be their starting third baseman and Rodriguez will compete for at-bats at designated hitter.
Rodriguez called Headley an “excellent addition” to the team. Rodriguez did not take grounders at first base.
“I’m willing to try,” he said. “When Joe needs me, I’m going to be ready. I’m here early, trying to get a jump-start. It’s a process. It’s going to take time.”
Suspended for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract, Rodriguez apologized to team officials during a meeting at Yankee Stadium on Feb. 10 and to fans in a statement last week. His handwritten statement to fans offered no details.
“I’m fortunate for a lot of people, especially the commissioner’s office, the players’ union, the Yankees to give me an opportunity to play the game that I love,” he said.
Asked whether he thought the Yankees’ organization was on his side, Rodriguez said he didn’t know.
“You’d have to ask them,” he responded. “I created a big headache for a lot of people. So, I don’t blame whoever is mad at me.”
When asked if at any point he would address specifics regarding his mistakes, Rodriguez answered: “Right now I’m just focused on making this team. Obviously, it was a rough year.”
Before speaking with reporters, Rodriguez spent 10 minutes signing autographs for a group of around 50 fans, who all cheered him.
Rodriguez stopped his SUV near the complex entrance, got out and walked toward the fans, who surged forward and semi-surrounded him. He also posed for photos with many of them, interacting with questions like “Where are you from?”
When he was done, Rodriguez turned to the group of reporters and said, “Let’s keep this nice and short.”
He said he has no plans to address Yankees teammates as a group.
“I have a lot of good relationships in there,” Rodriguez said. “Stayed in touch with a lot of them. I feel welcomed back.”
Rodriguez, who turns 40 in July, has not played a full season since 2007 because the suspension, operations on both hips and other injuries.
“I don’t know. … We’ll see,” Rodriguez said about his body holding up. “If I stay healthy, I can do good things.”
He admitted in 2009 that he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-03 while with Texas. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rodriguez for 211 games in August 2013, citing conduct from 2010-12 uncovered during MLB’s investigation of the Biogenesis of America clinic, which was based in Coral Gables, Florida, not far from Rodriguez’s home.
Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reduced the penalty to the 2014 season, finding “clear and convincing evidence” Rodriguez used three banned substances and twice tried to obstruct baseball’s drug investigation. The suspension cost Rodriguez just over $22 million of his $25 million salary last year.
Rodriguez said it’s not for him to say if the penalty was fair.
“There’s a system in place,” Rodriguez said. “I paid my penalty. I’m moving on.”
Rodriguez also sued Major League Baseball, the players’ association and the Yankees’ team physician, then dropped the cases.
He is owed $61 million in the final three seasons of his $275 million, 10-year contract. A marketing agreement signed at the time of his contract provides for five $6 million bonuses he could earn for historic achievements; the Yankees told him they don’t plan to pay those.
When asked what he would have done differently the past two years, Rodriguez responded by saying: “I don’t have time for that.”