DUNEDIN — Yankees star Alex Rodriguez said he wasn't bothered by getting booed and heckled at times Wednesday during his first game since admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs, calling the mixed fan reaction "very mild."
And it was Rodriguez who ended up with the last laugh, walking twice and hitting a two-run homer in a 6-1 win over the Blue Jays in the teams' spring training opener before 5,014 at Dunedin Stadium.
Though some fans yelled "cheater," "Hey, A-Roid" or "How's Madonna?" and another wore an "A-Fraud" shirt, it appeared that Rodriguez received a more favorable response as the game wore on — including a large ovation after the homer in the fourth inning.
But just when it seemed Rodriguez would complete a day without further controversy, he boarded a burgandy sport utility vehicle that, according to the New York Post and ESPN.com, was driven by Rodriguez's cousin Yuri Sucart, the same relative who, according to Rodriguez, bought steroids and injected Rodriguez from 2001-03.
It was a curious end to a much-anticipated exhibition, one where the focus of the Yankees — and their fans — was finally fixed on baseball, rather than banned substances.
"I thought the fans were okay, actually," Rodriguez, 33, said. "I'd like to invite a bunch of them to Fenway this summer. They were pretty nice."
Apparently, Rodriguez heeded the advice of friend and Yankees legend Reggie Jackson, who told the All-Star third baseman Tuesday at dinner to just "hit the baseball, and hit it when it counts." It was a message Jackson said Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner asked him to deliver. Jackson, who said he was disappointed Rodriguez used steroids, said performing on the field is "the most important thing (Rodriguez) can do," one way to "edit your own story with a bat."
"As long as he does that," Jackson said, "then he's got a chance to change things around."
A large contingent of Yankees fans was likely a reason for a favorable reaction, with some shouting during pregame, "You're the man, A-Rod," and "60 homers this year!"
The booing began before his first at-bat, when a fan shouted, "Where's your cousin?"
Apparently, the answer to that question came soon enough.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.