A-Rod encouraged despite offseason

Updated: April 1, 2013, 2:12 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez returned to Yankee Stadium for the first time since undergoing hip surgery in the offseason and having his name turn up in the records of a Miami clinic suspected of supplying players with PEDs.

Rodriguez faced the media briefly before the Yankees' home opener against the Boston Red Sox but chose not to subject himself to the Yankee Stadium crowd, which booed him in his last appearance here during last October's American League Championship Series.

"I haven't checked, but I don't need to be introduced to feel like I'm part of this team,'' Rodriguez said while surrounded by a media horde outside the Yankees clubhouse. "I'll tell you what, when I get introduced, I want to be on the field and not look back.''

After undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum and bone impingement in his left hip in January, Rodriguez is not expected to play until after the All-Star break.

But even without engaging in any baseball activity, Rodriguez had a tumultuous offseason in which the Yankees, according to sources, explored the possibility of voiding the remaining five seasons and $114 million left on his contract because of his alleged involvement with the Biogenesis "anti-aging clinic'' and its director, Anthony Bosch.

As he has all offseason, Rodriguez refused to address the allegations except to refer back to a statement issued by his PR firm denying any illegal activity.

"Again, I don't want to look into that,'' he said. "I want to really focus on this great Opening Day and the great game of baseball, and the great season that the Yankees are hopefully going to have.''

Since undergoing surgery, Rodriguez has been engaged in a rehabilitation program that had him working out four days a week in New York but allowed him to spend the weekends in Miami, where he lives in the offseason.

Information from the Yankees regarding Rodriguez's rehab has been sparse. On Monday, Rodriguez said he was still in the early stages of his recovery.

"We're in the very beginning, I would say Stage 1, of this process,'' he said. "The recovery is going very well. I've been devoting 100 percent of my time and my focus into getting back and playing and helping this team win a title. We'll definitely use doctors for that, but it's too early to determine right now.''

According to Rodriguez's hip surgeon, Dr. Bryan Kelly, the injury was the reason for Rodriguez's postseason performance, when he batted .120 and struck out 12 times in 25 at-bats, causing him to be pinch hit for four times and benched for two elimination games by manager Joe Girardi, and booed mercilessly by the Yankee Stadium fans.

Questions have arisen whether the decision to delay Rodriguez' surgery until January -- the condition was diagnosed in October -- was the right one considering how long a recovery the procedure requires.

"Hindsight is always 20/20,'' he said. "If I would have, we would have never had that very tough ending for sure. Live and learn.''

The timing of the surgery insured Rodriguez would not take part in spring training and set back his return date until at least half the 2013 season has been played.

"Missing spring training obviously sucks,'' he said. "It's definitely a tough pill to swallow. I love the game of baseball and being around my teammates. I'm just glad I'm here on Opening Day to give them support because it's going to be a special year.''

Rodriguez, who hit .272 last year with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs, said he expects to return to a high level of play after his recovery is complete.

"When I found out after the season was over about the big tear in my left hip, it was a bit of a relief to realize and understand what happened at the end of last year,'' he said. "I was able to go in and fix it and rehab. I think once I'm mended and back to being 100 percent there's no reason why I can't play at a very high level.''

He also poked fun at prognosticators who have forecast a bad year for the team this season.

"I think this year is a very special opportunity,'' he said. "This is my 10th year here in New York and it's the first time we're being predicted to finish in last place. That's exciting. It's a year of opportunity for our team, a year of opportunity for me. I love when people say you can't do this, you can't do that, you're old. I find it a great challenge.''

Mariano Rivera said he ran into Rodriguez in the clubhouse after it was closed to the media and was glad to see him.

"It was a pleasure seeing him here,'' Rivera said. "He's been my teammate for so many years. His presence here is good for the team.''

Rodriguez's return for Opening Day lent some familiarity to a Yankees team that has seen wholesale turnover in its roster since last season because of free-agent defections and a rash of injuries.

This year's roster includes 14 players who were not on the roster for last year's opener, and Monday's starting lineup included only three players -- second baseman Robinson Cano, center fielder Brett Gardner and starting pitcher CC Sabathia -- who were on the field when the Yankees opened the 2012 season.

Aside from Rodriguez, also absent this season are Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Phil Hughes, all of whom are on the disabled list.

In their place, the Yankees started Eduardo Nunez at shortstop, Jayson Nix at third base and Kevin Youkilis, a once-hated member of the archrival Red Sox, at first base.

Teixeira, who is suffering from a partially torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, is with the team and was announced to a big ovation before the game.

Girardi made it clear, however, that any decision for Rodriguez to be introduced with the rest of his teammates at the pregame introductions, and face the possible wrath of a crowd that seemed to have turned against him last year, was Rodriguez's alone.

"I'm not sure exactly what part of the day he's going to go through,'' Girardi said. "I really haven't found that out yet. I'm anxious to see him. I want to see how he's moving around in a sense because I haven't seen him since, probably the end of January when he was just starting to ride a bike. What he chooses to do today is his prerogative and I'm fine with whatever he chooses to do.''

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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