With a 211-game suspension looming, a beleaguered Alex Rodriguez entered a Chicago stadium Monday night feeling like the 18-year-old that first stepped onto a major league ballpark 20 years ago in Boston.
Coming out of Westminster Christian High School in Miami, many scouts thought he was the best prospect they'd ever seen.
"I don't know if my bones will ever feel again like if I was 18 again, but it was fun to go out there and play the game again, that's for sure," Rodriguez said.
As A-Rod amassed two contracts worth well over $200 million, the pressures of living up to greatness made him vulnerable to performance-enhancing drugs. He admitted to steroid use before the start of the 2009 season as he was coming off his first hip surgery and looked to have turned the page on a career that one day could land him in Cooperstown.
But somehow Rodriguez lured himself back into a hole, embroiled along with 12 other baseball players, all Latinos except one, that have been suspended for their involvement with Biogenesis, a clinic in Miami and its rogue, wannabe doctor who distributed PEDs as the players looked for some sort of edge.
It seemed like A-Rod wasn't going to dodge Bud Selig and Major League Baseball this time. Especially after the commissioner announced he would impose his own powers and ban A-Rod for life by invoking Article XII (B) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which states that a player could be tossed for life from the game "for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the tests of the best interests of baseball ..."
But A-Rod dodged the bullet, and the toughest day in any of the 20 years that he'd spent playing the game he loves so much, a game that was his sanctuary ever since he was a 3-year-old kid.
On the night he returned to that green manicured field that's been his safe haven, he got cheered but mostly jeered every time he stepped to the plate.
A pariah in the eyes of many, including fans and especially players, A-Rod believes that "anybody no matter how much you like or dislike, I don't think anybody wants to see anybody suffer."
"It was a hard day today, that's for sure. A long day. I felt pretty good. From this moment on I want to focus on baseball and play every game like it's do or die", A-Rod told a gaggle of reporters.
Humbled by the last four days in which he indirectly went after MLB and the Yankees, saying they'd all benefit from his banishment, A-Rod will now fight for his existence when his appeal is set to kick in Thursday.
On that day he'll be facing the toughest 3-2 count at-bat he's had in all his life, somehow looking to survive an ordeal that's cast doubt over whether his career has been a total sham.
He's talked of a "happy ending" to all of this and certainly he's aware that all the talk won't go away forever.
"I don't think there's a 'well' in any of this situation. I just hope that there's a happy ending somewhere in there," Rodriguez said before walking away from his locker. "But as far as the game, which is what I'm going to focus from now on and all I'm going to talk about, we have some important games coming up.”