A-Rod, Jeter yanked apart

ON BASEBALL

The Kickoff

February 20, 2007|By DAN CONNOLLY

TAMPA, Fla. — TAMPA, Fla.-- --The breakup rumors are true. The nightly dinners have stopped. The sleepovers, too.

The duo isn't officially separated, but the fire sure ain't what it used to be.

Apparently, A-Rod and Jeet just don't love each other like they once did.

That's according to Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees third baseman and baseball's most talented and intimidating princess (sorry, Barry Bonds, but the crown has been passed).

Rodriguez decided to come clean yesterday in his first spring chat with the media. In the past three years, he kept hearing talk that he and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter were no longer on good terms, and he kept swearing it wasn't true.

They were comrades, best pals, Rodriguez continued saying - even though they didn't hang out together and Jeter wasn't exactly flashing his A-Rod friendship bracelet around town.

Well, yesterday, Rodriguez offered a pact to the kind, forgiving, understanding New York media throng: "Let's make a contract. You don't ask me about Derek anymore, and I promise I'll stop lying to all of you guys.

"Let's be honest: Look, Derek and I were best of friends about 10 or 12 years ago, best of friends. We are still good friends. We get along well. We cheer hard for each other. He cheers for me. And we both want to win a world championship.

"Do we go to dinner every night like we used to? No. But we are good friends, we have a lot of respect for each other and we want to win."

What did the Yankees' incomparable captain say in response? Jeter, the king of clutch decisions and impeccable timing, escaped the clubhouse before reporters could corner him.

He couldn't be reached to comment.

Neither could Dr. Phil.

Nor Phil Donahue. Nor Phil Rizzuto.

Doesn't matter, though. A-Rod said plenty.

"The reality is there has been a change in our relationship in the last 14 years, and hopefully we can put it behind us," he said.

Fourteen years and all that remains between them is an awkward piece of property on the left side of the Yankee Stadium infield. A shame, really.

"You go from sleeping over somebody's house five days a week and now you don't sleep over," Rodriguez said. "It's not that big of a deal."

Yeah, tell Mariah Carey or Jessica Alba that.

Maybe Mariah, Jessica and A-Rod can start a Divas Dumped by Derek support group.

Seriously, Rodriguez was trying to be up-front here. He was trying to show he was a good, honest guy, not the selfish, guarded whiner he has been painted as by some.

"I think it's important just to quit the [nonsense]. It is what it is," Rodriguez said. "I think ... people start assuming that things are a lot worse than what they are, which they are not."

Problem is, the only thing Rodriguez does more poorly than media spinning is playoff hitting. It was like a bad sitcom episode. He wanted reporters to walk out of the spring training dugout here and think: "Hey, those guys still like each other," and "A-Rod's recharged after a dismal 1-for-14 postseason."

Instead, the prevailing thought was: "Can you imagine Jeter and A-Rod at a sleepover? Sitting in a tent in a Manhattan suite reading Baseball Digest by flashlight and painting each other's toenails in pinstripes?"

Those who know Jeter said the shortstop is probably livid, giving him another reason to dislike Rodriguez. Or at the least Jeter is shaking his head at the public relations nightmare that is his $252 million teammate.

Jeter will handle this like he handles everything else, though: calmly and coolly. So will manager Joe Torre.

"That's one of the things about the Yankees that has been successful from the top with Joe Torre," Yankees designated hitter Jason Giambi said. "You have 25 superstars all on one team, and they mesh together and get along together and [Torre] puts the fires out when they need to be put out and they win."

Besides, Giambi said, Rodriguez and Jeter are friendly enough.

"They are probably not as tight as they used to be, but it's not a situation where they don't speak to each other and don't say hi," Giambi said. "They are teammates and they are still friends. But everybody's relationship changes as they get older, so, no, I don't think that has to do with the playing field at all."

They'll be together for at least another season. Rodriguez is signed through 2010 but could opt out of his contract at the end of this year. Yesterday, he said he wants and expects to remain in New York, but he stopped short of saying he absolutely, positively wouldn't use the out clause.

Jeter also is signed through 2010. And, as the current heart of this franchise, he's not going anywhere. He'll likely retire in the Bronx.

So if there eventually were an ugly divorce between the two, it's Rodriguez who would pack his stuff in cardboard boxes and leave town.

But that won't happen now.

The relationship has cooled, but the two remain good friends.

According to A-Rod anyway.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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