TAMPA, Fla. – Alex Rodriguez sat himself precisely upon the sheet of notebook paper with "13" written on it, the unspoken direction located on the home-dugout bench at Legends Field here, wedged between a smile and a sigh.
He arrived at New York Yankees camp Monday. He stopped by for his annual physical, which, as it turned out, preceded another 15 minutes of poking and prodding, this without the benefit of the Latex glove.
There are five issues that dog the two-time MVP, and he came prepared to discuss them all.
First, he is 4-for-41 without an RBI in his last 12 playoff games for the Yankees. ("I've stunk.")
Second, it got so bad Joe Torre had to hide him in the eighth place in the order. ("I was embarrassed.")
Third, he won't really say if he'll opt out of the final three years of his contract after this season. ("I want to be a New York Yankee.")
Fourth, Derek Jeter doesn't want to be his best friend anymore and hasn't wanted to be for quite some time.
Fifth, does this Jeter thing have anything whatsoever to do with any of the first three?
"Well, let's make a contract," Rodriguez said. "You don't ask me about Derek anymore, and I promise I'll stop lying to all you guys."
That sounds fine. Wait a second. …
"Let's be honest," he continued. "Look, Derek and I were best of friends about 10, 12 years ago. Became best of friends. We're still good friends. We get along well. We cheer hard for each other. He cheers for me. And we both want to win a world championship. Do we go to dinner every night like we used to? No. But we're good friends, have a lot of respect for each other, and we want to win. No more questions about that."
Which, of course, brought a few nods and about 10 more questions. Because this is Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez we're talking here, and for six weeks every spring this little green corner of Tampa becomes New York without the snow shovels. And what was that about the lying?
"I think it's just important to cut the [BS], you know?" he said. "I mean, it is what it is. I think when you get into all the [bull], people start assuming that things are a lot worse than what they are, which they are not. But they're obviously not as great as they used to be, when we were like blood brothers, you know?"
The natural follow-up, then, as everyone had decided to opt out of the A-Rod/Jeter contract anyway, was: What happened? And why?
"You don't have to go to dinner with a guy four or five times a week to do what you do," he said. "It's actually much better than all you guys [suspect], but I just wanted the truth to be known. … You go from sleeping over at somebody's house five days a week, and now you don't sleep over. It's just not that big of a deal. That's happened with your friends, I'm sure. Some of your friends.
"I think it's just important to let all you guys know. You guys haven't heard it from me [before]. It's an old question. There's nothing there. It's much better than you guys are going to write, but the reality is, there's been a change in the relationship over 14 years and hopefully we can put it behind us."
Rodriguez starts his fourth season as a Yankee, his 14th as a big-leaguer – he's more than halfway to 900 home runs – and finds it necessary to divulge he no longer sleeps over at the shortstop's house.
If Jeter were charged with opening a hole for A-Rod to run through, or if Jeter were the point guard and A-Rod his points-hungry power forward, this might matter.
But this is baseball and these are grown men.
Jeter gets his at-bat, then A-Rod gets his. If A-Rod can't reach a ball to his left, then Jeter gets it. That's the end of it.
Sure, Rodriguez must deliver, particularly in October, assuming the Yankees get there. Sure, he's in danger of getting those 900 home runs and no one remembering a single one. And sure, he gets booed a lot, and right about now a lot of New Yorkers probably can't decide if they're overjoyed Rodriguez might opt out of his contract or indignant Rodriguez might opt out of his contract.
But to suggest Jeter has anything to do with those failures, or that his friendship or public support would have done anything to avert them, is misguided.
The Yankees presumably would benefit greatly from an emotionally secure A-Rod, but could Jeter really play a part in that?
"I care about what he thinks about me on the field," Rodriguez said. "I think it's important for us to be on the right page and we are. We're here to win a championship together."
Beyond that, he said, "I'm a big boy. I'm 31 years old now. So I should be able to help myself out there."