Deep in heart of Texas, there's no love for A-Rod

Yankees star booed lustily in his return to Arlington

May 22, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas - Several hours before he stepped onto the grass at Ameriquest Field in Arlington in a New York Yankees uniform for the first time, superstar Alex Rodriguez pondered an interesting question.

If you were a Texas Rangers fan, someone asked, would you boo you? "No, I wouldn't boo me," Rodriguez said, "simply because I came here and played the best baseball I could and won an MVP and two Gold Gloves and a Player of the Year Award. The way I played between the lines ... that was special."

Of course, it was what happened outside the lines last winter that brought a sellout crowd of 49,195 to the opener of the weekend series between the Rangers and the Yankees last night - not to congratulate Rodriguez for the fine way he conducted himself in a Rangers uniform, but to shower him with disapproval for walking out on the team's rebuilding program.

He was booed lustily every time he poked his head out of the dugout before the game. The volume increased when he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat and hardly relented when he lined a two-run homer into the left field seats to remind everyone that he is, indeed, one of the most exciting players in the game.

There were a few cheers, like when Rangers starter Joaquin Benoit buzzed a fastball over his head in the third inning, but you get the idea. It was an evening of unfettered A-Rod indignation, even if Rodriguez tried to sugar-coat it afterward.

"I thought they [the fans] were OK," Rodriguez said after his former teammates rallied to hand the Yankees a 9-7 defeat. "There were lots of positive signs out there. I signed a lot of autographs. It was nice seeing everybody. You can ask the guys, Seattle's a lot worse."

The local sports talk shows goaded fans to come out and vent their outrage. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram inserted one of three posters in each copy of yesterday's edition, one showing support for Rodriguez, another displaying his face on a giant $252 million dollar bill, and the most inflammatory screaming "A-RAT" in huge type.

No one disputes that he played his heart out during the first three years of the record 10-year, $252 million contract that was bestowed on him by Rangers owner Tom Hicks in December of 2000, but that was before he dissed the youth movement and departed to join the hated Yankees.

Rodriguez reminded everyone at an afternoon news conference that he never asked to be traded, but he didn't hide his desire to jump to a contending team and did everything he could to facilitate an aborted traded to the Boston Red Sox before eventually agreeing to the deal that sent him to New York for power-hitting second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a minor league player.

"There was a change of plan here," Rodriguez said. "When I came here they were going to go for it, but the plan changed."

There also was friction between Rodriguez and new Rangers manager Buck Showalter last year, but the player said it had been hashed out and he was prepared to remain with the Rangers this season until the Yankees entered the picture.

"We had some differences," Rodriguez said, "then we settled them. It just took time to get used to each other."

The Rangers finished last in each of Rodriguez's three seasons in Texas and figured to descend further into baseball purgatory after his departure, but it hasn't worked out that way ... at least not yet.

The Rangers appear to be better off without him. The youthful offensive lineup leads the major leagues in team batting average and the surprising pitching staff ranks a respectable sixth in ERA. It is not lost on Rangers fans that the Seattle Mariners won 116 games the year after Rodriguez left town.

What does it say about the best all-around player in the game when both of his former teams got better after he left? "That's a good question," he said. "I don't know. You've got to give [Rangers general manager] John Hart and [owner] Tom Hicks a lot of credit. They've done a lot better against the West. We really took a beating against the Mariners and A's, but they've played well against those teams this year.

"I'm excited for them. I feel like I had a small part in that because I was involved in the development of some of those young men."

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