Wherever one looks, there is something to be seen. Assistance and redemption can come from the most unlikely of sources. Solace sought and escapes when the answer is nearby. Desperation fuels the pursuit and recourse ceases to exists. As the options become scarce and time begins to tick, the alternatives dwindle. Ideas once unfathomable and improbable become feasible and at least for the time being are the most rewarding selection. During the offseason, the New York Yankees were caught in this undertone. The elongated suspension of Alex Rodriguez expired and the disgraced former All-Star eased into the spotlight once again. Serving as the designated hitter, Rodriguez is experiencing a rejuvenation, batting over .300 during his first 40 plate appearances to open the season, igniting a dormant Yankees offense and quietly erasing his checkered past.
Entering spring training the expectations appeared bleak. Nearly eighteen months removed from both hip surgery and a yearlong suspension for his involvement in the Miami clinic Biogenesis, Rodriguez became a marginalized player, an individual whose value bordered on the abyss and a malcontent unable to save himself from his own shadow. The fans and the organization sought to distance themselves from the headaches and chaotic atmosphere, but an accord with three years and nearly sixty million dollars remaining bound both sides together in a shotgun marriage of egos and desperate needs. The Yankees hoped to survive without Rodriguez the past two seasons, but their offense sputtered, ranking in the bottom quartile in the American League each of the past two seasons at eleventh and thirteenth respectively. Runs came at a premium resulting in mediocrity and a bloated payroll featuring some of the most lucrative salaries in the game. The glory days of the Joe Torre era was a fading memory and after spending nearly $400 million dollars in free agency heading into the 2014 season, upgrades were limited and the farm system provided solace for the distant future, rather than the present.
These factors resulted in the Yankees turning once again to their $275 million dollar man, hoping to rehabilitate his reputation and reclaim his past glory. Rodriguez spent his yearlong exile in Miami training relentlessly for yet another chance at redemption. With the team in transition following the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter in successive seasons, the fans seemed ready to forgive or #FORG1V3, as the twitter hashtag expressed. Those who clamored for A-Rod’s return witnessed his baseball revival on the diamond at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa during spring training. After flailing at two 89 mile an hour fastballs from pitcher Kevin Slowey, Rodriguez connected on a single to left field. Timing would come with repetition and Rodriguez mashed his first home run of the spring a few days later against the Red Sox. Flashes of previous brilliance led to .267 batting average in Grapefruit League play and a regular spot in the Yankees order as the Designated Hitter. Rodriguez would also see action at both third base and across the diamond at first to keep his bat in the lineup. A-Rod’s late spring training surged continued into the regular season. A bases clearing three run double against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium propelled Rodriguez to a blistering week featuring a home run at Camden Yards and a two dingers in Tampa Bay, conjuring up memories of his greatest triumphs. Entering play on Monday, Rodriguez paces the Yankees with a .316/.447/.711 slash line and four home runs, electrifying a slumbering offense which hit just .193 collectively through the first five games, their worst showing to open a season since 1968 (USA Today Sports Weekly).
Every at-bat during the early part of the season puts Rodriguez in the conversation for the AL Comeback Player of the Year award, while also reigniting the tensions between he and the club due to the terms of his historic contract. The renegotiated pact consists of a number of performance-based incentives, including a $6 million bonus for any milestone achievement. As of this publishing, Rodriguez sits just two home runs shy of tying Willie Mays on the all-time list and just 49 away from eclipsing the 3000 hit plateau. These potential benchmarks cause great concern for the Yankees, who stated before the season began that they intend to contest the contractual commitments due to A-Rod’s previous involvement with performance enhancing drugs and subsequent suspension. Both parties have been on both opposites sides on this matter when Rodriguez sued both the club and Major League Baseball on the grounds of conspiring against him despite frequent denials of any wrongdoing. The Yankees surmise the incentives in the 2007 contract were void once the slugger had been suspended of PED use. Acknowledgement of Rodriguez and his spot on the team entering the season became clouded in doubt, at one juncture resorting to omitting his name from Twitter account during game updates. Reaching impending milestones could potentially reopen wounds between Rodriguez and the club despite his strong performance to open the season.
With the club in transition and gingerly clinging to the vestiges of its former prosperity, Alex Rodriguez serves arguably as the last connection between the run of excellence and the period of uncertainty. Rodriguez is the team’s longest tenured player and the lone individual who played for Joe Torre. In a sense he has emerged as the team leader and the headlining face of the franchise. Escaping the shadow of Derek Jeter affords Rodriguez an opportunity to showcase his ability and perhaps for the last time, attempt to endear himself to the Yankee faithful. Relying heavily on a soon to be 40 year old former All-Star with two degenerate hips whose best days are clearly behind him is a precarious state. Years of fruitless drafts, coupled with massive contracts to free agents, left the club in a position of perplexity. The endless struggle between contending each season and preparing for future success creates a stream of middling returns and general apathy. The reemergence of the crosstown New York Mets generates added pressure to keep their stranglehold as the most accepted team in New York City. As the once latent farm system completes the development of products Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Gregory Bird, and Eric Jagielo, the Yankees seek to extract any positive contributions from their elder statesman in order to justify their contracts before they set to expire and the prospects are deemed ready for the Major Leagues. Through the first sixteenth of the 2015 season, Rodriguez is passing that test and providing contributions, which are exceeding expectations and slowly vindicating the troubled superstar. Despite these gains, the scepter of validity and substance remain questioned as the public attempts to forgive and accept the circumstances. Opportunity and the present commonly assuage us to overlook the past and allow us to bask in the existing state of affairs. Taking into account the condition the Yankees encounter on the field, Alex Rodriguez has emerged, at least for the first two weeks of the regular season as an invaluable member of the franchise, though it remains to be seen whether he can maintain his torrid pace throughout the campaign and avoid the drama and controversy he has met during the course of his career.