Alex Rodriguez no longer is in the heart of the Yankees' lineup, having been pushed down to seventh in the batting order.
Rodriguez, however, still has a prime place in the hearts of at least some Yankees fans. He was warmly cheered on Monday in his first game at Yankee Stadium since the Biogenesis-related suspension that forced him to miss the entire 2014 season.
"I have to admit it definitely felt good," Rodriguez said after Toronto defeated the Yankees, 6-1, on Opening Day. "I have a lot of love for the City of New York, especially our fans.''
It was Rodriguez's first game since Sept. 25, 2013, and it clearly was a huge deal to him. He became the first Yankee to reach base this season when he walked in the third inning. Rodriguez led off the fifth by lining a single to right-center and was one of only three Yankees to get a hit.
There were plenty of vocal Rodriguez supporters in the stands, and they easily drowned out the smattering of boos. His No. 13 jersey was the most popular one in the stands. A number of fans waved signs of support. One group of friends wore T-shirts spelling out "#Forg1v3," combining his uniform number with the word "forgive.''
The moment that got to Rodriguez the most, however, was at the start of the game, when he received the ultimate nod of respect from the Bleacher Creatures. Traditionally, fans in the bleachers open each home game by rhythmically chanting the name of each player on the field in order to get a tip of the cap or another acknowledgment. On Monday, they included Rodriguez in the roll call, even though he was in the dugout as the designated hitter. A-Rod responded by coming to the steps of the dugout and waving his cap.
"That was a first for me," Rodriguez said.
Manager Joe Girardi wasn't surprised by Rodriguez's reception.
"I think we live in a forgiving society overall," he said. "We live in a society that gives people second and third chances, fourth, fifth . . . As humans, we're going to make mistakes. I know for me, if someone would have given up on me the first time I made a mistake, it would have been a long life for me, I'm sure. But we live in a society that pulls for people to come back and make something of their life, and I think we're fortunate because of that.''
Rodriguez, 39, said the feeling he had coming into Monday was similar to the one he had coming into his first game as a rookie. He said he had a number of friends and family in the stands, including his mother.
"It was a special day for her," he said. "I'm especially happy for her because I know she had some tears going into the day."
Coming out of the day, Rodriguez had only smiles. He said he can't remember where he was for Opening Day last season but that he is thrilled to be back for this one.
Said Rodriguez: "Being here, it means the world to me. I don't think I ever took it for granted, but I can guarantee you that I won't take this year for granted. Being back in uniform and wearing the pinstripes -- I have one of the greatest jobs in America."