Originally created 05/25/04

A-Rod enjoys first trip back to Texas



ARLINGTON, Texas -- Alex Rodriguez came back to Texas this weekend bracing for the worst. He left with some pleasant memories.

Rodriguez homered in his first at-bat against the team that made him a quarter-billionaire and went 5-for-14 for the New York Yankees in a three-game series against the Rangers.

With a hit in every game, he has reached base in 32 straight, most in the majors this season and five shy of his career high.

The negatives were that the Yankees lost the first two games before winning 8-3 Sunday. Rodriguez also had an error Saturday on a ball hit by Alfonso Soriano, the player he was traded for, although he thought the umpire made the wrong call at first base.

"For the most part, I had a good series," said Rodriguez, who also enjoyed a Saturday night dinner at his favorite restaurant. "It was fun, exciting. The fans were a heck of a lot of fun."

Most players who get booed every time they come to the plate - and every time he stepped into the on-deck circle - wouldn't say they enjoyed themselves.

But think about it from A-Rod's perspective: He has been taunted in most ballparks since signing a $252 million, 10-year contract to leave Seattle for the Rangers before the 2001 season. While relentless, these boos were nothing like what he heard from Seattle fans in his first trip back there.

"Those were hatred boos," said Texas shortstop Michael Young, who was Rodriguez's second-base partner back then. "These were we're-annoyed-with-you boos."

Rodriguez was supposed to be the savior who lifted the franchise to the World Series for the first time. While he excelled personally, the team never got out of last place, then decided to slash payroll and go with a youth movement. He didn't want to stick around for a rebuilding job, so he asked to be traded to Boston or New York.

After a deal with the Red Sox dissolved, he vowed that he was a loyal Ranger, even taking on the title of team captain. Just 23 days later, he was pulling on pinstripes.

Being a Yankee means he hears nothing but jeers everywhere but Yankee Stadium. He's also already endured his first trip to Boston and was slumping at the time, making the catcalls even more brutal. That, too, helped soften this weekend's treatment.

"It's something that's going to follow him," New York manager Joe Torre said. "He's a high-profile guy on a team a lot of people don't like very much, and he makes a lot of money. So people are going to try to punch holes in him."

Rodriguez proved to be a much bigger drawing card as an opponent than he was as a hometown star.

After not having sold out a game since the opener, Texas sold out all three of these. Sunday's crowd of 50,241 was the second-best for a regular-season game in team history, and the fifth-best for any game, counting playoffs and the 1995 All-Star game.

The three-game series drew 148,894 fans, topping by more than 10,000 the Rangers' previous best series, which was their first interleague matchup with the Houston Astros in 2001.

Fans were treated to Texas winning a home series over the Yankees for the first time since 1996.

"I want to thank the fans, they were outstanding," Rangers manager Buck Showalter said. "They care a lot about us. This is what they wanted to do on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That's flattering."

New York and Texas came out of this weekend with identical records: 25-18.

While that's to be expected of the reigning AL champs, the Rangers are a huge surprise because they're coming off four straight last-place finishes and are supposed to be sorely missing the player widely considered the best in baseball - A-Rod.

Improved clubhouse chemistry is a big reason for the turnaround. Rodriguez unintentionally helped bring Texas players together with his spring training comment that he felt last year's team was "Alex and 24 kids." He was reminded of that line often this weekend, including several playings of The Who song, "The Kids Are Alright" over the ballpark's loudspeakers.

"I take a lot of joy and pride in seeing those young men play so well," he said, laughing. "I hope they continue to play well. Maybe they can win the division and we'll see them in October."