TAMPA, Fla. -- It took nearly 18 months for Alex Rodriguez to get back on a baseball field -- and just one at-bat to get back into the swing of things with a single his first time up in Wednesday's spring training game between the Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies at Steinbrenner Field.
A-Rod finished his day 1-for-2 with a walk and left the game in the sixth inning, having turned a mixed early greeting to cheers by the time he was done.
"I was happy I just made contact, and I was pleasantly surprised it was a base hit," Rodriguez said of his first plate appearance of the spring. "I was a little nervous. I told [plate umpire Marty Foster] to take it easy on the old man -- it's been a long time since I've been in the box."
It had been a long time between hits in a major league game for A-Rod, stretching back to the eighth inning of a game at Yankee Stadium against the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 22, 2013.
But, batting second in the lineup as the Yankees' designated hitter, Rodriguez lined the third pitch he saw from right-hander Kevin Slowey, an 0-2 delivery clocked at 89 mph, into left field for a base hit. Rodriguez had swung and missed at the first two pitches, both fastballs clocked at 91.
The crowd, which had greeted Rodriguez's pregame introduction and first walk to the plate with a mixture of cheers and boos, erupted as A-Rod pulled into first base. In his career, Rodriguez had hit Slowey well in a small sample, with four hits, including one home run, in nine at-bats.
In his second at-bat, with two out and a man on first in the third inning, Rodriguez swung at the first pitch and grounded to the shortstop for an inning-ending forceout off reliever Paul Clemens. Between at-bats, A-Rod sat next to Reggie Jackson on a folding chair outside the Yankees' dugout with his batting helmet on, like an eager Little Leaguer awaiting his next turn to hit.
"Everything feels a little odd right now," Rodriguez said. "I felt like I was swinging underwater. I was like, man, it's been a long time."
A-Rod's eagerness was obvious in his first two at-bats, in which the normally selective Rodriguez swung at each of the first four pitches he saw.
"I don't know how you could not be [overeager], because you want to find out where you're at," manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm sure he's missed the game tremendously because he really loves to play the game and talk about the game. Being away from it, I'm not surprised. It's probably the first spring training game in a long time that he's been a little anxious."
But when Rodriguez came up in the sixth with runners on first and third and none out, it was a more patient A-Rod who faced Phillies pitcher Ethan Martin, working out a 3-2 walk to load the bases.
Rodriguez seemed as proud of laying off that full-count pitch as he was of his base hit in the first inning.
"I don't know how I took that pitch," he said. "It was just nice to walk."
Rodriguez was removed for a pinch runner after the walk and left to another ovation from the announced crowd of 9,673.
"I thought the response was great," he said. "Once you hit rock bottom, anytime you hear a few cheers these days, it's a pleasant surprise."
"For this time of spring, they were pretty good at-bats," Girardi said. "A two-strike base hit, he hit a ground ball hard and worked a walk in a situation where they didn't give him much to hit. He put us in a situation to score a bunch of runs even though we didn't."
Girardi said Rodriguez would not travel to Bradenton with the team for Thursday's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates but would be back in the lineup, probably as the DH again, for Friday night's home game against the Pirates. There is still no plan for him to play the field or to break out his new first baseman's glove; Rodriguez has been taking grounders at first in preparation for possible backup duty for Mark Teixeira.
"I'll look at where I put him every day, but you're going to try to get him as many at-bats as you can," Girardi said. "There's a couple of things I can do, like letting him play a little bit longer in games if he's DH-ing, like I did today. I'll talk to him, see how he feels tomorrow, see where he feels he's at, and we'll go from there."
"Whatever Joe wants, I'll do," Rodriguez said. "I'm having fun. This is as much fun as I've had in a long time in spring training. I'm just feeling really good that I get to play the game that I love."