On a cool night in the Bronx last week, Alex Rodriguez watched his best shot of the game land harmlessly in the glove of Detroit Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson. Any other night, with the ball carrying to center as it normally would, A-Rod would’ve been trotting around the bases before touching home plate and exchanging high fives with teammates. Instead, it was the express route to the dugout.
Rodriguez has done everything possible to reacquire his power stroke, including extra batting practice under the watchful eye of Yankees’ hitting coach Kevin Long, tenacious drilling to improve his hand-eye coordination, and periodic rest to accommodate his declining, 35-year-old frame. Yet, at his current pace, his season projects to 24 round-trippers from the four hole, a yawn-worthy total for a slugger of A-Rod’s pedigree.
“So I figured I’d ask Hank [Steinbrenner] to move the fences in,” said Rodriguez. “He always said his door was open and he seems like a cool guy. Besides, moving the fence like 40 feet wouldn’t be that hard. Well, let’s say 50 just to be safe.”
Steinbrenner was surprised by the request.
“I wasn’t sure how to respond,” he said. “Let me rephrase that … I was sure of what was going through my mind, but I was pretty damned sure I shouldn’t say it to him. I had to literally bite my tongue. Took three stitches to close it.”
So was he able to offer his cleanup hitter any assurances?
“Look, I got one of my guys coming to me for help, so I’m always going to listen. Is there a precedent for moving the fences in? Sure. But Alex is built like a linebacker. I told him the long balls will come. I move the fences any closer and I’ve got seven infielders. Hughes asked me weeks ago if we could move them closer to the state line. I can’t please everybody.”
Rodriguez took the disappointment in stride.
“Didn’t hurt to ask,” he said before glancing up at the stadium sky and adding, “Wonder what it’d set us back to put a dome on this thing?”