Monday, April 23, 2007

A-Rod: I've Pretty Much Mailed It In Until Now

NEW YORK - Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez admitted yesterday that his efforts have been sub par since coming to play for New York. Acquired in a trade from the Texas Rangers for second baseman Alfonso Soriano and pitcher Joaquin Arias, Rodriguez has been the target of much derision among New York Yankee fans and baseball fans in general.

The highest paid player in baseball, the slacking Rodriguez, known to fans as A-Rod, signed a record breaking 10-year quarter of a billion dollar deal with the Texas Rangers in 2000, a contract that only the financially corpulent Yankees organization could dare take on. While his numbers have been some of the best in baseball, the fans have failed to embrace the slugger, especially after he, like the rest of his team, lost their stride in the 2004 playoffs, and suffered the worst collapse in professional sports history, losing the ALCS to hated rival Boston, despite having a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

His poor playoff performance in both the 2005 and 2006 playoffs have likewise served to be the cause of much ire among New York faithful. In the past 12 post season games, Rodriguez has hit a pathetic 4-41 (.098) and has not had a single RBI in that span.

But this season, Rodriguez is tearing up the field like a man on a mission. "I may get up earlier than any other major league player," Rodriguez explained, "but once I got to the ballfield, it was all daydreamin' and wool gathering. I sometimes fell asleep in the dugout during those hot August games. But this year, I've decided to give the fans everything I've got. I've been playing at about 30, 35%. This year, I'm upping my output to 70% of my true potential."

The results are apparent: through 17 games, Rodriguez has clubbed 12 homeruns, driven in 31 RBI, and his batting average is a torrid .371. "I'm turning it up a notch. Back in my first full year in the majors, I played at about 80%, and hit 36 HR and drove in 123 RBI. I said to myself, 'Whoa, Alex, let's not get carried away.' So I dialed it down a bit, to about 60%. Next season, the numbers showed my decrease in effort, but then in my third year, my numbers crept up again. I actually had to slack off a bit more just to keep my power numbers down. I think by the last year in Seattle, I was playing at about 40%."

Despite his incredible regular season statistics and the fact that he owns several prestigious records and awards, Rodriguez was adamant about playoff time. "Hey, in the playoffs, everything changed. Everyone is more intense, and the mood just gets all icky. I felt really bad for the Red Sox in '03," Rodriguez said, crushing coal into diamonds outside his locker. "They always try so hard, and then [ALCS hero] Aaron Boone has to go and kick them when they're down. Not nice. You could just see the sadness in their eyes. So I decided to give them a little pep me up the next year. I told the guys to take it easy on them, let them get a little confidence, but they wouldn't hear of it. So I had to pull out all the stops. A couple of key errors later, and things were looking rosier for them. When I saw [ALCS Game 6 Red Sox pitcher Bronson] Arroyo trying to tag me, I figured I'd do something childish and immature, totally beneath a professional of my skill and stature, to light a fire under them. Well, lo and behold, they came back to win the series, and ended up winning the World Series that year! Good for them!"

But now Rodriguez says all bets are off. "We got off to a bit of a slow start, so I decided to pump up my game to a new level. I'm here to win, at least until the playoffs come around again." Rodriguez laid out a carefully composed schedule of hitting streaks, game winning dramatics, and inspirational rallies he has planned for the team. "It's so much more dramatic to come from behind, and let the Red Sox get ahead of us. Rest assured, when the chips are down, the Yankees will be there to stumble at the last minute, giving hope to some other AL team in the final days of the playoffs. I'm thinking Oakland needs a break this year," Rodriguez said. "All the criticisms, all the boos, all the death threats, they're worth it when you get to look across the field and see all the smiling happy faces of those other players."

"They're all very special little guys," Rodriguez said, clutching a handkerchief to his moistened eyes.