ST. PETERSBURG — The boos were loud and long when Yankees star Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate for the first time Friday night.
"It was 'J-u-u-u-i-ced!' " said Roy Jay, a 51-year-old Rays fan from Orlando sitting behind home plate. "I think we invented the new 'Boo.' "
Rodriguez, 38, has been similarly reviled and jeered by fans in other stadiums the past couple of weeks, even criticized by some players around baseball for being able to play while appealing his 211-game suspension for violating baseball's drug agreement.
And most of the 24,239 at Tropicana Field for Friday's Rays-Yankees game let Rodriguez hear it, booing him during each of his four at-bats (he went 0-for-4).
When Rodriguez struck out looking to end the first, there was a loud ovation, with some fans standing. Every time the third baseman touched the ball in the infield, there were more boos and name-calling.
"Bum!" one yelled.
" 'Needle-rod,' " another said.
"I'm mad," said Mike Freese, 64, a retired state police officer. "He's a cheater. I figure if he does something wrong, he has to pay the price."
Manager Joe Maddon said the Rays weren't going to act as vigilantes and intentionally throw at Rodriguez during this three-game series, like Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster seemed to do Sunday (Dempster is serving a five game-suspension for hitting Rodriguez). There were no beanings or even brush-backs Friday, and it doesn't seem like there will be any this weekend.
"I want to get him out," said Rays left-hander David Price, tonight's starter.
Rodriguez wasn't available for comment after the game. But he wasn't without a few supporters, many of whom packed the third-base line for autographs before the game.
Cory Decker, 20, from Massachusetts, said Rodriguez is "innocent until proven guilty." Mike Schutrum, 25, from Charlotte, N.C., said, "We need him." Alana Servido, 31, from New Jersey, held a sign that said "A-Rod I love you" and yelled to him: "You said that if you don't stick up for yourself, nobody will. You forgot about me. I'll fight the world."
Mark Boyar, 53, from Sarasota, came close to bringing a different sign. "World-class contract, world-class cheater," Boyar said.
Boyar drove to St. Petersburg with his friend Jose Rodriguez ("No relation," he quipped). Rodriguez has been a Yankees fan for nearly 40 years, staying up until 3 a.m. to watch games while growing up in the Dominican Republic. But he couldn't bring himself to cheer for A-Rod, believing the 14-time All-Star with 649 home runs has brought embarrassment to a proud franchise.
"He's cheated the game; that ain't right," Rodriguez the fan said.
"He has to sit; he's suspended. Be clean, or get out."