TAMPA (AFP) - Disgraced dope-cheat Alex Rodriguez, who missed the entire 2014 Major League Baseball season serving a record ban for performance-enhancing drugs, reported to the New York Yankees training camp on Monday.
Rodriguez took his physical and worked out at the Yankees' pre-season training complex in Florida two days before the full squad was scheduled to report and three days ahead of the first scheduled team workout, facing a flurry of media questions before the arrival of his teammates.
"Obviously it was a rough year. I'm excited that's behind me," Rodriguez said. "Right now I'm just focused on making this team. I'm here early to get a jump start. I'm confident if I stay healthy I can do some good things."
The 39-year-old slugger was among more than a dozen players suspended as a result of the Biogensis clinic scandal uncovered in 2013, which saw steroids and human growth hormone distributed to players.
But "A-Rod" received the longest ban, in part because of attempting to impede Major League Baseball's investigation of the matter.
"I made a mistake. I served a big penalty personally and professionally," Rodriguez said. "I served the time. I tried to use the time productively. I paid my penalty. I'm moving on and focusing on 2015."
"There were plenty of mistakes in a lot of ways. I cringe sometimes when I look at the things I did. No mistake that I made has any good answer or justification."
"I've created a big headache for a lot of people so I don't blame whoever is mad at me." Rodriguez, a three-time American League Most Valuable Player, was originally given a 211-game ban but it was later reduced to 162 games, the entire 2014 campaign.
Top form will take time
Rodriguez said the layoff might help his fitness by not putting his body through a season or risking injury.
"The time off has benefitted me. I feel healthy and ready to go," he said. "It's the first time I get a full year off and get to train instead of rehab." But Rodriguez also admitted he will need some time to reacquaint himself with the velocity of offerings from opposing pitchers.
"It's going to take some time for me," he said. "I haven't faced live pitching in a long time. It's one of the hardest things to do in sports. We'll see how it goes. I'm up for the challenge."
Last week, Rodriguez issued an open letter of apology to fans, teammates, the Yankees and Major League Baseball for his actions as he begins to try and work his way back onto a team that he helped to a World Series crown in 2009.
"Surprisingly I feel very welcome coming back," Rodriguez said. "I have a lot of good relationships here. When you win a world championship it's incredible the relationships you build, that bonding."
Rodriguez is unsure what reception he will receive from fans in new York's first pre-season game March 3 against Philadelphia.
"I'm looking forward for games to start," Rodriguez said. "It's always an adventure. I'll be nervous. I'll be excited. There will be some energy in the building." With the Yankees set to pay third-baseman Rodriguez $61 million over the next three seasons, manager Joe Girardi is expected to evaluate how well he can play at other fielding positions and designated hitter.
"I'm willing to try whatever Joe wants me to try," Rodriguez said. "It's a process. It's going to take some time. I'm going to put in a lot of work." Although his feats have been tainted by admissions of doping both recently and more than a decade ago for Texas, Rodriguez has 654 career home runs, six shy of Willie Mays for fourth on Major League Baseball's all-time homers list and 108 off the record 762 hit by Barry Bonds.
Asked about his best-case scenario, Rodriguez addressed team goals rather than any rehabilitation of his shattered personal reputation.
"Winning a world championship. That's the best-case scenario. That's why we're all here," he said.
And the worst-case scenario? "Not winning a world championship."