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02/25/10 5:14 PM EST

A-Rod reached out, offered Damon advice

Third baseman no stranger to free agency drama

TAMPA, Fla. -- Perhaps more than anyone, Alex Rodriguez wanted Johnny Damon back in the Bronx.

Rodriguez, speaking publicly Thursday for the first time this spring, said he reached out to Damon this offseason to offer advice on free agency.

"Johnny and I are very good friends, and we've always had a lot of dialogue, both in the offseason and the season," Rodriguez said. "I was just trying to share some of my experiences with him."

Earlier this week, Damon officially signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Tigers, months after rejecting a two-year, $14 million offer to return to New York. At his introductory news conference, Damon reiterated that the Yankees had always been his first choice.

For Rodriguez, the feeling was mutual.

"I was crossing my fingers hoping that he would come back," Rodriguez said. "Johnny's a great player. He was an integral part of our world championship team, and we're going to miss him dearly. He's also a great human being, and he's always out there doing a lot of charity work."

Rodriguez has a history of rocky free-agency periods himself. After signing a record-breaking 10-year, $252 million free-agent contract with the Rangers in 2000, Rodriguez reportedly admitted that he would have preferred to have signed with the Mets.

Seven years later, Rodriguez famously opted out of his contract during Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, becoming a free agent and spurning the Yankees. He then contacted the team personally, apologized and began negotiations for his current 10-year, $275 million deal.

Damon's free agency was not quite so contentious, though he did ultimately sign with the Tigers after rejecting an offer from his first choice, the Yankees. Both players share an agent in Scott Boras.

"In a perfect world, we'd have our 25-man roster for the next five years," Rodriguez said. "Unfortunately, that's not realistic in this game."

Rodriguez also weighed in Thursday on Derek Jeter, whose contract is up after this year and who is not likely to sign an extension until the season is complete.

"Derek Jeter was born to be a Yankee, and he was born to wear pinstripes," Rodriguez said. "He's our captain and we need him here, and I envision he'll finish his career here. When you think of Derek, I can't envision him wearing any other uniform."

Bombers Bits: Thursday marked the first day of batting practice for the Yankees. Among the highlights were Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano taking cuts against reliever Alfredo Aceves. ... CC Sabathia will start the Yankees' second Spring Training game on March 4, keeping him in line to start the club's season opener in Boston on Easter Sunday night, April 4. ... Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, battling for the fifth-starter's role, will both throw batting practice on Friday.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.