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A-Rod's return to the plate booed in Chicago

6:02 AM, Aug 6, 2013   |    comments
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Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees reacts after flying out in the 4th inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

CHICAGO (USA TODAY) - New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, speaking deliberately, and even emotionally at times, Monday called the past seven months a nightmare.

Judging by the reaction of the crowd that swarmed U.S. Cellular Field to see his first game of the season, Rodriguez's nightmare is just beginning.

Rodriguez was vociferously booed by the fans when merely walking to home plate in his first plate appearance, and the boos remained incessant, growing even louder when he singled, with fans screaming and taunting him. It only worsened as the game continued.

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"It was a hard day today, that's for sure, a long day,'' Rodriguez said. "It's been crazy. ...It was good for me to get the first one behind me.

"For me, personally, I just want to get back to playing baseball. I just hope there's a happy ending somewhere in there.''

Such is life now for Rodriguez after being suspended earlier Monday for 211 games and then immediately appealing the largest penalty ever levied against a player for performance-enhancing drug use.

In all there were 13 players suspended in a day of sweeping and dramatic punishment meted out by Major League Baseball, eclipsing the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal for throwing the World Series as the most players suspended at once for off-field activities. Teams with World Series aspirations lost players for virtually the remainder of the season, including Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers and Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers who agreed to 50-game bans.

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Yet, Rodriguez, the biggest star, with the biggest paycheck, who plays on the biggest stage, easily dwarfed the others.

Rodriguez, defiant to the end, is the only player who appealed his suspension. The decision is not expected to be rendered by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz until at least November, players union chief Michael Weiner says.

"I'm fighting for my life," Rodriguez said. "I have to defend myself. If I don't defend myself no one else will."

The images of each of the suspended players will forever be tarnished, but no one will suffer more than Rodriguez, who like Lance Armstrong, Ryan Braun and many more before him appears set to deny accusations until all avenues are exhausted.

"I know what people are going to say," Rodriguez told USA TODAY Sports in July. "They're going to say, 'This is a bad guy. This is an evil guy. He's a prima donna. Look what he's done.'

"Sometimes, you just want to say, 'Uncle, already.'"

The boos and taunts were vicious at times during the game, with 3,200 tickets sold Monday to voice their opinion of Rodriguez, but he refused to listen, choosing instead to hear the cheers from the visiting Yankees' fans.

"Look,'' he said, "I don't think anybody -- no matter how much you like or dislike -- wants to see anybody suffer. I think the fans want to see what's best for the game, but hopefully, we can take a pause for some of this and start focusing on baseball.

"At least for a little while.''

Rodriguez, who has spent most of the year recovering from January hip surgery, evaded most of the specific questions during a pregame news conference.

He was asked if he ever used performance-enhancing drugs: "We'll have a forum to discuss all of that, and we'll talk about it then."

He was asked whether he thought MLB had a personal vendetta against him: "I don't know what the motivation is for any of this, but I'm going to respect the process. I feel good that we have an opportunity to do that and the right platform."

He also was asked about MLB's evidence against him - accusing him of using banned substances such as testosterone and human growth hormone over years and attempting to obstruct the the league's investigation: "We've seen everything. There will be a time and a place for (discussing) all of that. When the time is right, we'll all speak more freely. ... That's as much as I feel comfortable going into right now."

So many questions, so few answers.

Even his teammates have questions, and ask what life is like as Alex Rodriguez.

"You wonder why he thought he had to use (steroids)," Yankees first baseman Lyle Overbay told USA TODAY Sports. "Why did he feel he needed to do that? Why?

"He was the man. He was the best player in baseball. It's hard to understand.

"When you see these things, I even ask myself, 'Why didn't I ever use that stuff?'"

Overbay wasn't joking. He didn't even crack a smile.

"I don't think I could have lived with myself if I had taken stuff," Overbay said, "but I can't put myself in Alex's shoes. He was dealing with pressures that I will never feel or understand.

"So I don't know if I would have done the same thing, I really don't."

(Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY sports)

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