Published August 06, 2013
Alex Rodriguez was welcomed back to his first at-bat of the season Monday with a series of boos and jeers amplified by the 211-game suspension announced earlier in the day by Major League Baseball.
The crowd at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago jeered him during pregame warmups and introductions, and they really tore into him when he walked to the batter's box leading off the second inning.
News of the Rodriguez suspension left a bittersweet taste in the mouths of New York baseball fans Monday, hours before the slugger's first game with the Yankees since his hip surgery.
As the team prepared to face the Chicago White Sox, emotions about the return of the 38-year-old third baseman ranged from unconditional love to outright disdain.
"They should ban him for life and take his money — even the millions they owe him," said Edgar Rivera, a Puerto Rican-born New Yorker who describes himself as "a die-hard Yankees fan since the 1970s, whether they win or lose."
"I feel cheated; nobody was seeing anything," Rivera said, his face twisted with anger as he shopped at a Modell's store in midtown Manhattan. "The MLB is to blame too. I mean, c'mon!"
But Jersey City, N.J., resident Luis Velazquez, who was visiting the Yankees store on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, said he'd wear his Rodriguez No. 13 jersey while watching the game at home.
After the 211-game suspension was announced Monday by Major League Baseball, A-Rod's jersey was prominently displayed by the entrance. But the store hadn't sold any as of late afternoon.
"I don't care what people think, I still love A-Rod," Velazquez said with a wry grin. "He's a nice guy; he made a mistake — I don't know what happened in his mind — and he's paying for it."
Rodriguez was suspended through 2014 and All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera were banned 50 games apiece Monday when Major League Baseball disciplined 13 players in a drug case — the most sweeping punishment since the Black Sox scandal nearly a century ago.
A total of 18 players have been sanctioned for their relationships to a closed Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez says he'll appeal his suspension.
Many Yankees fans say they're ready to see the star slugger go.
Jarett Anderson, a Modell's employee and Yankees fan, said baseball's highest-paid player "should just leave the team; the Yankees should just let him go. Why keep him playing?"
On Fifth Avenue, Velazquez was worried about Rodriguez as a bad role model for young fans.
"When you play baseball and you love the game, you're supposed to play it straight," he said. "What will kids think now?"
Rodriguez is set to appeal his career-crippling drug ban as he resumes playing with the team, saying he's going "to give them my best."
It took a die-hard fan of the New York Mets — the Yankees' age-old opponents — to offer a dispassionate look at the Rodriguez drama.
Jonathan Goldstein, who grew up in Queens near the Mets' old Shea Stadium and works at a Manhattan guitar store, said it's "interesting how the team just shut him out. They said, we're not going to talk to you."
The White Sox pounded the Yankees 8-1 to snap a 10-game losing streak Monday.
Rodriguez shrugged off the reaction at Monday's game, saying "fans are great. I love Chicago. I love the fans here. It's just a great town, great people. I'm just so humbled being on the field, being able to play the game I love."
Rodriguez did not deny using performance-enhancing drugs in a news conference after the punishment was announced.
"There's nothing about it that's been easy," Rodriguez said. "All of it has been challenging. I'm sure there's been mistakes made along the way. We're here now. I'm a human being. I've had two hip surgeries. I've had two knee surgeries. I'm fighting for my life."
He had said earlier he planned to appeal the suspension, the harshest of some 13 penalties doled out by the league Monday.
“It’s not going to get any easier,” he said. “It’s probably going to get harder.” But he added he was “thrilled and humbled to have an opportunity to put on this uniform again and play major league baseball again.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.