When he took batting practice, the cameras clicked. In the clubhouse, so many mini-cams wanted to capture his words and image that he had to move away from his locker to the center of the room.
Not that he had much to say, just a collection of clichés so old that he probably chuckled to himself as he said them. He's made a concentrated effort since spring training not to reveal his thinking, to focus on the field.
And who could blame him? Why concentrate on his past postseason performances? He is 4-for-41 (.098) with no RBIs in his last 12 playoff games and hitless in his last 15 postseason at-bats with runners in scoring position. His own failures are a big reason baseball's best player has never reached the World Series.
When the Yankees were eliminated during each of his first three seasons in New York, A-Rod was the top target in the blame game. Chances are, the fate of the pinstripes this October will turn on his performance starting Thursday in the first-round series against Cleveland.
“I think his mind-set definitely changed,” Johnny Damon said. “He was always out trying to please people, try to do, say the right things.”
A-Rod cut down his appearances in the media and increased 'em on the leader board.
Rodriguez hit 54 homers and had 156 RBIs this season, an onslaught likely to earn him his third AL MVP award. From the seventh inning on, he batted .349. Yankees captain Derek Jeter said he'd never seen an offensive performance like it.
New York fizzled to a 21-29 start. Had Rodriguez not hit 14 home runs in April, the Yankees could have been about 15-35.
“I don't think we would have made the playoffs if it wasn't for him,” Andy Pettitte said. “Without him, I don't think we would have really had a shot down here at the end.”
These could be Rodriguez's final games in New York. Since his very first day at spring training, he's been asked about that opt-out clause, the one that allows him to bolt the final three seasons of his record $252 million, 10-year contract and seek even more money in the free-agent market.
He's avoided talk about that - he doesn't have to make a decision until the 10th day after the World Series ends. Before then, the Yankees might come to him with an extension offer.
But that's too far ahead. What matters now is the next game, the next pitch. He doesn't want to think about last year's four-game exit against Detroit.
“This is probably the most comfortable he's been in the time he's been here, in my estimation,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “He just seems like he's had more fun this year, even during games, where at other times you could see him grinding out a little bit too much.”
Torre talks to A-Rod a lot. In describing the team's most-dissected psyche, Torre sounds more guidance counselor than manager.
“I think he sort of internalized a lot last year and in doing that, I think he really built up a lot of baggage,” Torre said. “He's tried to be a lot of things to a lot of people, and this year I think he spent a lot more time just trying to help himself.”
Can't argue with the results. Rodriguez especially feasted on Indians pitchers, gobbling them up like a kid eating Milano cookies. He was 8-for-24 with 13 RBIs as the Yankees swept the six-game, regular-season series, and six of his hits were home runs.
He thinks his attitude played as big a part as his improved mechanics at the plate.
“Coming into spring training, it seems like yesterday, I said that I was in a good place,” Rodriguez said.
What did that entail?
“Have an opportunity to laugh at myself,” he said. “I haven't done that too much over the last three years, and this year I kind of laughed at myself along with all my teammates at me all the time.”
He almost always is at the ballpark early. Torre says Rodriguez is more aware of things around him than other players.
Rodriguez was interested in Yankees history, wondering where his RBI total ranked among Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio (A-Rod was 10th) and why in the early days of Yankee Stadium, the RBI totals were so high (the center-field fence was 490 feet from the plate through 1936).
Pettitte, playing alongside A-Rod for the first time, was impressed.
“Just what a student of the game he is, how hard he works. I guess I should have known that. You don't get to be the greatest player in the game and not be,” the pitcher said. “He's into the game, man. I can go back - he can sit here and tell me every sequence I threw to every hitter during the course of a game, and I can't even remember that. That just tells you right there what kind of attention he's paying when he steps out on the field.”
Come Thursday, the big regular-season stats will disappear and the numbers next to A-Rod's name will be ” when he steps to the plate against C.C. Sabathia. A quick start will make some of those questions go away. A hitless day will bring back reminders of the failures.
This might be his last chance to make it in New York.
“Don't ask him about it,” Jeter told the assembled media mob. “Just leave him alone and let him play.”