The other side of A-Rod

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez plays a little catch before the game against the Jays on...

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez plays a little catch before the game against the Jays on Thursday. (Sun Media/Jack Boland)

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Alex Rodriguez won't be saying he's sorry anymore. He's already said it. He knows he messed up. It's time to move on.

Time to turn the page on the book that is his life. Not the book that's currently assaulting his character and his superb but contradictory career.

"I've made a lot of mistakes," said A-Rod in a rare and revealing one-on-one interview yesterday in the Yankees clubhouse at the Rogers Centre. "Listen, I'm not the same at 33 (years old) as I was at 23. You change. You grow up. You learn things. We all do.

"I was 17 years old when I signed my first professional contract and suddenly you've got all this money and everything. You're not prepared for that. It's not like some sports where you get four years of college and then find your way. It's a lot to throw at a kid. I've kind of grown up in this game, only people want to hold me to my past.

"There comes a time when you realize, this is who you are. Every other thing that happens is really white noise. Do you wish you had a chance to sit with fans and just talk, the way we're talking right now, to let them get to know you? You do. But that's not the reality. You have to depend on people to write their opinions. And at one time, those opinions were really important to me."

Just not anymore. The once thin-skin has thickened over time. At every at-bat in every opposing city, he hears the boos. Even at times at Yankee Stadium he hears them. But he says it doesn't bother him. It isn't worse now after the steroid stories of this winter past and unsubstantiated allegations of Selena Roberts' dubious book, and he's a little surprised by the reaction he has found around baseball.

"It's been very mild so far," he said about the response to him this season. "I'm used to being booed. It has been going on for 10 years now. I take it as a compliment. I feed off of it, it inspires me."

His recent comeback from hip surgery hasn't been easy for the three-time most valuable player. Nothing to do with the steroid stories, everything to do with a right hip. Barely two months have passed since he had his torn labrum repaired and a pair of Canadians, Dr. Marc Phillipon, now in Colorado, and noted chiropractor Dr. Mark Lindsay (he of Donovan Bailey fame) have played a huge part in his getting back on the field this quickly.

The time off made him appreciate the game even more and his place in it, and at the same time turned him into something he didn't believe was possible: He is suddenly a hockey fan.

"I've watched more hockey in the last two months than my whole life, combined," Rodriguez said. "I never knew anything about hockey before, but I think I have a new appreciation for Canadians and the passion they have for hockey. It's been awesome. I can't get enough of it.

PRAISE FOR HALLADAY

"Every time I was at Mark Lindsay's getting a treatment, he would have the NHL channel on and he would educate me. Mark's the guy who got me back on the field and I owe a lot to him."

And who impresses him?

"I like that Alex guy, No. 8 (Ovechkin) and I love (Sidney) Crosby and I like the Rangers. So many of the (Canadian) baseball players were former hockey players. I like talking to them about it now."

He likes talking about baseball, about the resurgence of the Blue Jays, about Cito Gaston, about Roy Halladay, who he calls "the best in baseball," about hockey, about winning a World Series with the Yankees, about being a good teammate, but he would rather avoid any controversy. There has been too much already. There have been few athletes in any sport so successful yet so dissected. He has been poked and prodded too often and for too long. Some of it accurately. Most of it not.

"I think if everyone out there in the world knew him how we know him, it would be a totally different persona," said the Yankees' Nick Swisher, who tells a story about being phoned by A-Rod after the Yankees acquired him from Chicago. "He was the only dude to call me. You come over to the Yankees, you don't know what to expect. And I get this call from Alex and that meant a lot to me. I thought, this guy is going through all this stuff, and yet he's still taking the time to call me. I thought that was pretty cool."

All this stuff: It doesn't seem to end. His name was leaked from a long list of apparent positive tests from 2003. Someone apparently out to get him, just not the rest of the names on the list. What he discovered, quickly, from all the headlines was who his friends really were and who supported him.

"I've felt a lot of love," said A-Rod, he of the 554 home runs. "Through this process, I got so much love from fans, teammates, players across the league, it really surprised me. It was amazing. You can't get caught up in this article or that article. I've had to stay focused on the big picture."

And if he could control his own image and reputation?

"I want to be known as a good teammate," Rodriguez said. "At the end of the day, what your teammates think of you matters. This is your family. These are your friends.

"People ask: "What do you want to accomplish? I want to win a championship. Simple. That's all. There's nothing else I can do on the field. I want to be a team player and win a championship. I can't think of a second, third or fourth thing that matters. There's only one thing.

"This is the best bunch I've ever played with. I like where we're going. You can't look back. You have to keep moving forward."


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