I doubt it’s any coincidence that Brandon Laird has been taking ground balls at third base right alongside Alex Rodriguez, just like I doubt it’s any coincidence that Eduardo Nunez is taking his shortstop reps with Derek Jeter. Extremely young players might not be comfortable with the superstars, but the guys on the verge need to rub shoulders with the best, and they need to learn from the best.
“I always saw that part in (Rodriguez),” Joe Girardi said. “He’d put his arm around young players and talk to them about the game. There’s been a lot of talk about how he was with Melky (Cabrera) and Robbie Cano when they were young. I was just watching him today with Brandon Laird. It was great. Talking to Brandon about things to do in bunt situations and why he does certain things. He was really good.”
It’s interesting that today Rodriguez seemed perfectly at ease in the press conference tent behind Steinbrenner Field. He opened with a joke, made fun of the press for asking him about “popcorn and losing five pounds” and had no problem heaping expectations on himself after two season that were “not acceptable” according to his standards.
“(The steroid admission) might have been a big step to that,” Girardi said. “Andy (Pettitte) has always talked about, the truth sets you free, and it takes a weight off your shoulders (no longer) living with, is someone going to find out? To me, you’re able to relax and be able to put it behind you and move forward and concentrate on the things that you need to concentrate on instead of maybe your focus being taken away. And I think that was a big step.”
Here’s the audio plus some more notes from today’s Rodriguez press conference.
• The theme of today’s press conference seemed to be the new A-Rod, lighter in every since of the word. Not only has he shed some weight, he’s also unburdened by some of the things that haunted him in the past. “I believe I’m in a better place,” he said. “After all the things that have gone on, I felt a sense of liberation. I’m just really enjoying my life, enjoying the game and enjoying my teammates.”
• Rodriguez also went out of his way — more than once — to say that the Yankees need him to be better than he was last season. “I know that our team goal is to win a championship,” he said. “And I think in order for us to do that, I think certain guys have to step up. And I’m one of those guys. I’m expecting a nice year.”
• Dr. Marc Philippon was encouraged by what he found during an offseason exam and told Rodriguez that he’s back to 100 percent. Rodriguez still has to check in twice a year, but right now he’s confident that the hip problems are behind him.
• On his offseason training: “This is as healthy as I’ve felt over the last several years. I went down to see Philippon either in late-November or December and he gave me the full green light to actually go out and train like I usually do. The last several years, I’ve probably been 60-70 percent rehab, 30 percent training. This year, he actually let me go out, gave me the green light to do 100 percent training, get ready to play baseball. That said, I don’t make any excuses for what I’ve done the last several years, because no one wants to hear excuses, but at the end of the day, it’s been fun getting back to work.”
• On the state of the Yankees: “I hear there are a lot of doubters out there. That’s always fun. The bottom line is that we won 95 games last year and we have pretty much the same core coming back this year. We were two wins shy of the World Series, and with the exception of Swish and Robbie, I think the other seven guys, if you ask them, all of them would tell you there’s a lot of room for improvement. That starts with me. We expect to do a lot of good things, and in order for us to do that, I know that I have to play at an elite level. I’m ready for that challenge. I think all our guys are ready for that challenge.”
• On his struggles against lefties last season: “That’s one that puzzles me, because I love hitting against lefties. The numbers didn’t say that last year, so it’s something I have to work on and I’m going to focus on. I’m pretty confident that will be addressed very well this year.”
• On his advice to CC Sabathia regarding the opt-out: “I’m not the guy that should be giving any advice about anything to do with contracts, but I know that CC enjoys being a Yankee very much. I know his family likes it here. He has a beautiful home. I know the Yankees, we love having him here, and I don’t foresee him wearing another uniform any time soon.”
• On his expectations for Derek Jeter: “I think he’s not the only one that’s going to have a chip on his shoulder this year. I think if you look at our lineup (and) pitchers, there are a lot of people in there that want something to prove. The feeling we were left with in Texas is one that was not good. I think Jeter is going to do what he always does, have Derek Jeter-type year, which is over 200 hits, be very productive and I expect him to get right back to form.”
Associated Press photos