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Archive for Monday, February 23, 2004

A-Rod trying to win over Jeter

Newest Yankee trying to repair friendship with New York captain

February 23, 2004

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— Alex Rodriguez watched a practice grounder skip through his legs, tossed his glove to the grass and picked up another mitt. New to third base, he'll need time to learn the position.

Repairing his relationship with Derek Jeter will take awhile, too.

Rodriguez acknowledged their friendship had deteriorated in recent years. Once best buddies -- they kidded on the field and crossed paths on the dating scene -- the new Yankees teammates have never been the same since A-Rod criticized Jeter's skills and leadership in 2001.

"When we came up, we were kind of tied at the hip," Rodriguez said. "We haven't been as tight the last three years."

Trace the bad hop between the All-Star shortstops to remarks Rodriguez made shortly after signing his $252 million, 10-year contract with Texas. First, he said Jeter was unlikely to get such a salary "because he just doesn't do the power numbers, and defensively he doesn't do all those things."

Then, talking about a player whose team had won three straight World Series championships, Rodriguez said of Jeter: "He's never had to lead. He can just go and play and have fun. He hits second -- that's totally different than third or fourth in a lineup."

Immediately, Rodriguez knew Jeter was stung by the comments.

"Right after it happened, I drove to his house in Tampa," Rodriguez said Sunday. After the 21/2 -hour trip from his spring training home in Fort Myers, Rodriguez talked with Jeter for more than an hour, trying to explain what he meant.

"From that day on, I thought it was behind us," Rodriguez said.

New York's Alex Rodriguez fields a ground ball during practice. The
American League MVP -- who is making the switch from shortstop to
third base after being traded from Texas to the Yankees -- was
practicing Sunday at Tampa, Fla.

New York's Alex Rodriguez fields a ground ball during practice. The American League MVP -- who is making the switch from shortstop to third base after being traded from Texas to the Yankees -- was practicing Sunday at Tampa, Fla.

Apparently not. Because even though they both have said all the right things since Rodriguez's trade from Texas, clearly there has been a distinct coolness.

Jeter looked uncomfortable helping the AL MVP put on his pinstriped uniform at a lavish ceremony at Yankee Stadium last week and did not go out of his way to be part of Rodriguez's first session at third base.

Jeter has been working out at the minor-league complex, but he wasn't in camp Sunday. The first official practice for position players is Tuesday.

As for any potential problems with the guy who will be playing about 50 feet to his right, Jeter brushed it off.

"I'm not bothered. I mean, it gets old," he said. "You can only ask the same question so many times. You're going to get the same answers over and over. So I think those questions will eventually end."

Rodriguez has done his best to defer to Jeter, on and off the field. Along with joking that "Jeet gets all the fly balls because I'm not too good on those," Rodriguez played up his teammate's role.

"He's the captain," said Rodriguez, appointed to the same role with the Rangers right before he got traded. "I look forward to following in his footsteps.

"If Derek was coming to Texas, obviously I would be the captain and I would help him out. It would be exactly the other way around."

A cordial remark, but certainly not like it was in 1996, the season both players became regulars in the majors.

That year, with George Steinbrenner's permission, Jeter brought Rodriguez into the weight room at Legends Field, the Yankees' spring-training site. That still remains the only time Rodriguez met the Boss in person.

No stranger to squabbles, Steinbrenner said he expected everything to be fine this season. Asked whether he anticipated any controversy, he laughed.

"Nope, none," he said.

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