TAMPA, Fla. - Alex Rodriguez heard mostly cheers, both in pregame introductions and before his first official at-bat of the spring Wednesday. Boos, however, could be heard as well from fans at Steinbrenner Field.
But after the 39-year-old lined a fastball to left for a single? All cheers. And so it will go this season for baseball's lightning rod, at least as far as Yankees fans are concerned.
Hard feelings, there are a few. Produce? Welcome back, Alex.
"I thought the response was great,'' Rodriguez said after batting second and going 1-for-2 with a walk at designated hitter in the Yankees' 3-1 loss to the Phillies in front of an announced crowd of 9,673, slightly below capacity. "Any time I get cheers it's a nice, pleasant surprise.''
As was the result after falling in an 0-and-2 hole to righthander Kevin Slowey. A-Rod cut and missed at two 91-mph fastballs before singling to left on an 89-mph pitch, eliciting a loud ovation. "I mean, I was happy I just made contact,'' he said. "And I was pleasantly surprised it was a base hit.''
With two outs and one on in the third, A-Rod grounded sharply into a 6-4 force against righthander Paul Clemens. With two on and none out in the sixth against righty Ethan Martin, he worked a six-pitch walk.
"For this time of spring, they're pretty good at-bats,'' Joe Girardi said. "These at-bats for these guys aren't necessarily easy right now.''
How much easier it gets for Rodriguez is the big question. It was his first big-league game of any kind in 17 months, and his body was exhibiting signs of breaking down before last season's yearlong suspension. He landed on the disabled list each year from 2008-13.
All involved say the key for A-Rod is at-bats, the reason he'll be in the lineup again tomorrow night. He also could be sent to minor-league camp this month for even more of them.
"It's going to take time,'' A-Rod said. "Two or three weeks from now, I think we'll have a much better idea. Right now, it's all about getting in playing shape.''
An opposing team's scout said it's obviously too early to draw many conclusions, but added A-Rod didn't look "worse'' than the last time he played.
"He didn't have a very quick bat the last several years to begin with, but it doesn't look slower,'' the scout said. "Body looks good for his age . . . You can tell he still cares and is trying to prepare himself. Many others might not.''
A-Rod said he was "a little nervous'' before the game. "It's been a long time since I put on the pinstripes,'' he said. "It's definitely fun to have them back on.''
That fun extended to joking before an at-bat with umpire Marty Foster, whom A-Rod called "unprofessional'' in 2009 after Foster tossed him for arguing balls and strikes. "I told Marty to take it easy on the old man,'' he said. "It's been a couple years since I've been in the box.''
As for the boos, A-Rod acknowledged hearing them, but the fact there were far more cheers is what stood out for him.
"Once you hit rock bottom, any time you hear a few cheers these days, it's a pleasant surprise, so it makes it better,'' he said. "This is as much fun as I've had in a long time in spring training. I'm just feeling really grateful that I get to play the game that I love.''