The biggest on-field accessory might be missing when baseball's most expensive stadium opens on April 16.
Fans will be able to slip into the $2,500 first-row seats and order expensive drinks from the martini bar at $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium. The $850,000 luxury suites with the flat-panel televisions will be filled, and fancy food from the new concessions company will be flowing.
But what if the team moving into the palace already is slipping in the standings following a nine-game road trip? What if Cleveland's Carl Pavano beats the punchless Yankees in the home opener? What if $423.5 million worth of free-agent fixes doesn't help?
Instead of following the tradition established by Babe Ruth and homering in the first game that counts in a Yankees home, Alex Rodriguez likely will be limited to watching as a $174,863-a-day spectator. Or he might be in Tampa on a rehabilitation assignment for the most expensive hip injury in sports history.
No, this is not what the Yankees envisioned when they brought back Rodriguez for at least $275 million over 10 years in December 2007.
They didn't dream about missing the playoffs in 2008.
They didn't dream about A-Rod becoming a tabloid staple with his messy divorce and friendship with Madonna.
They didn't dream about him admitting he used steroids while playing for Texas from 2001-03.
And they didn't dream about a right hip injury that could leave them opening their pricey ballpark with a starting third baseman named Cody Ransom, who is seven months younger than Rodriguez and has seven home runs in six major league seasons (546 fewer than A-Rod) and 24 career RBIs (1,582 fewer).
On a team filled with question marks, Rodriguez has become the storm that never goes away, a tornado of turmoil that sweeps over the Yankees time and again. Not since Reggie Jackson has there been a player who dominated the other 24 on such a frequent and consistent basis.
"Alex monopolized all the attention," Joe Torre wrote in his book, released this offseason. "We never really had anybody who craved the attention. I think when Alex came over, he certainly changed the feel of the club."
Yet, there's a whole lot for Yankees fans to worry about as baseball's most successful franchise gets set to move across 161st Street, abandoning its home of 26 World Series titles for a luxury-laden building that has yet to establish any history. Even before Rodriguez's hip went south, the Yankees had many questions to think about when they head north:
_Will Jorge Posada's shoulder recover from surgery sufficiently to allow him to catch regularly?
_Will Hideki Matsui's knee heal from an operation enough to allow him to play left field occasionally, or does he become another batting order-clogging designated hitter?
_Will Chien-Ming Wang be a consistent pitcher following a foot injury that sidelined him the second half of last season?
_Will Andy Pettitte be slowed by the shoulder ailment that limited him to two wins in his last 11 starts?
_Will Marino Rivera be his usual overpowering self following shoulder surgery?
_Will Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera recover from 2008 slumps?
Even before this momentous month of admitting mental weakness and discovering physical frailty, A-Rod became baseball's most notorious star for so many reasons: the record-breaking salary, the three AL MVP awards, the monumental failures in the postseason, the feud with Derek Jeter, bizarre touches such as the Bronson Arroyo slap play and the Howie Clark 'Ha!' distracting yell.
Rodriguez practically invited New York tabloids to mock him by associating with a stripper in Toronto, then concluded his steroids news conference by saying wistfully: "I miss playing baseball. I miss simply being a baseball player."
When he makes his grand return, in six to nine weeks, his task remains a simple one. The standard by which he will be judged remains the same _ will he help the Yankees win World Series title No. 27 or won't he?
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