A-Rod calm and cool amid frenzy
Third baseman reiterates his desire to stay in New York
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- For everyone who booed him last season, he must have struggled to hold his tongue. For all that's happening at the plate this season, sitting still must have been a monumental task.
But yet there Alex Rodriguez was on Tuesday, calm and cool. Talking about his love for New York and spending time with his daughter. His offseason weight loss, his contract and, most important, the reason he was in the dugout pregame, nestled at the hub of 30-plus media members.
"I can't explain it," Rodriguez said. "I know you're looking for some profound answer, but I don't have one. I'm just trying to have as much fun as I can and really not care about what most people are thinking or saying."
Everyone is talking about A-Rod these days. The third baseman entered Tuesday with a Majors record-tying 14 home runs in April after he slugged two on Monday. He needed just 18 games to hit 14, the quickest in history. He has 30 hits, and 21 of them went for extra bases.
Going into Tuesday's game, A-Rod was hitting .400, tied with Minnesota's Joe Mauer for tops in the league. He also owns the highest slugging percentage (1.053) and has driven in 34 runs, as many as the next two highest AL players combined (teammate Jason Giambi and Boston's David Ortiz each have 17 RBIs). The record for RBIs in April is 35, set by Juan Gonzalez in 1998.
"It's video-game-type stuff, what he's been doing," said Rays right fielder Delmon Young. "The main thing he's doing is putting that barrel on every ball he hits. All of his home runs are like that.
"You don't even have to run at it, you just stand there and see where they go."
With 70 percent of A-Rod's hits going for extra bases and 67 percent of those leaving the park, it's almost expected each time he bats that the result will be one awesome display of power or another. So what happens if pitchers decide to start avoiding him?
"I don't care," he said. "The way Jason [Giambi] is swinging the bat right now ... there are three studs in front of me. It's a great place for me to be. [Opposing pitchers] can pick their poison. And if they walk me, I can always use my athleticism to steal a base or two."
Folks had their eye on the 10-time All-Star long before April 7, but it was on that day that his power catapulted him back into the national spotlight.
Rodriguez had already hit his second homer of the season during the first inning against Baltimore when he jacked the game-winner into the bleachers for a walk-off grand slam to push New York to victory, 10-7, at Yankee Stadium. Rodriguez maintains, though, that he felt this success coming a long time ago.
"Everyone talks about the walk-off," he said. "Ever since the first day, I've been feeling like I'm in a good place. I've been feeling comfortable. And even leading into the season, I thought I was feeling comfortable. I hit three or four home runs the last week. The walk-off was great, but I felt great before that."
Not the first day of the season, he said, but the first day of full workouts in Tampa, Fla., back in February. He dropped more than 10 pounds during the winter and reported to camp feeling younger and "a bit more athletic." Best of all, he said, he no longer felt the pressure to perform up to everyone else's expectations.
"There are certain things that you use, whether it's motivational, or just to relax yourself. You dangle carrots for yourself all the time," manager Joe Torre said. "I don't know what he's using, if there is something other than just baseball itself. Baseball and life are all about perspective.
"To me, he's probably as fresh as I remember him in the whole time since he's been there."
It's a peace of mind that's greatly aided his April tear, and at the same time caused a roar in baseball, with murmurs of "Barry Bonds" and "73 home runs" bubbling to the surface.
"That's a much better question in mid-August," said A-Rod of the possibility of surpassing Bonds' single-season record. "Right now it's kind of a moot point to even think about it.
"Let's see how far I can fly, and then I can tell you. I'm in the middle of flight right now."
Plus, he said, it's hard to plan a one-man celebration. The Yankees were just 8-10 entering Tuesday's game, and were in the middle of a four-game losing streak after a nasty sweep at the hands of the archrival Red Sox. New York's pitching staff is battling through a down period, injuries abound and not much is going right for anyone but A-Rod.
"You always enjoy playing well, but when you come to the park every day, it's about getting the win," he said. "You want to be a part of it somehow. It's obviously 100 percent more enjoyable when you win the game. Everyone wants to do well, every single game."
There was a time not too long ago, he remembered, when the team surged as he foundered. Now the tables are turned, and he is focused on doing what he can to make sure that both he and the team go forward together. New York, he said, has a special place in his heart, and because of that he has no worries as to where he'll be when his contract ends after this season.
"It got ugly last year for a while, and I just kept saying, 'I love New York.' It's the greatest place for me to play," he said. "I've always thought that, even when I was [really bad] last year. Things haven't changed.
"I want to stay in New York, no matter what."
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.