Rodriguez walked four times in new Yankee Stadium debut

NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez sounded lost.

"I had to follow someone in. And then I had to ask where the clubhouse was. And then I had to find out where the field was," he said. "So, I know where the field is now."

Following a tumultuous three-month period that included the admission he used steroids from 2001-03 and a hip injury that required surgery, A-Rod played his first game at the new Yankee Stadium on Friday night. He struck out with the bases loaded and walked four times as New York beat the Minnesota Twins 5-4 in the opener of a 10-game homestand.

Unlike Jason Giambi following his drug-related apology in 2005, Rodriguez didn't appear to go out of his way to sign autographs. Responding to criticism, the Yankees altered their policy Thursday and began allowing any fans with tickets to enter the lower deck in the outfield corners and behind the fences during batting practice. While a couple hundred spectators took advantage of the rules change to get a closer look before the game, no Yankees players approached them during the hitting session.

On a clear, warm spring night, the Legends Suite seats in the nine rows ringing the infield, which cost $500-$2,625, were again about half-empty when the game began but then filled up more than they did during the second homestand. Rodriguez, stretching in right field, received warm applause when his name was introduced before the game. He pointed his glove toward the Bleacher Creatures when they chanted "A-Rod!" during the first-inning roll call.

"It's amazing. I've never seen anything like it," Rodriguez said of the $1.5 billion ballpark. "I feel like I've only seen 5 percent of it, which is probably accurate. But, you know, at some point I'm going to take two or three hours to walk this whole place."

He spent little time before the game at his locker, to the side of Jorge Posada's, which with Derek Jeter's flanks the entry from the Yankees oval clubhouse to the showers.

Following Rodriguez's February admission that he used steroids, which came after an report that he tested positive during baseball's anonymous survey in 2003, Rodriguez hoped to redeem himself quickly. But he needed surgery March 9 to repair torn cartilage in his right hip. He didn't return until last Friday.

While the three-time MVP homered on the first pitch to him this year, he's 2 for 21 with one RBI since. After the trip to Baltimore and Toronto, he finally got back to New York and could spend time in his new $30,000-a-month rental apartment, two blocks from Madonna's Manhattan residence on the West Side.

"It's a special evening. For me, it's like my opening day," he said. "This is a day I'll remember for a long time. I'm just so excited to be playing baseball."

He hoped he could take advantage of the hitter-friendly ballpark, especially what seems to be an easy path toward home runs over the right-field wall.

"It's a good aiming spot," he said.

He received mostly warm applause, but not a standing ovation, when he batted for the first time in the second inning and walked. There were no noticeable signs backing or criticizing A-Rod near the field at a ballpark where fans in the lower deck have quickly developed a reputation for being cool rather than passionate.

Rodriguez struck out on low sliders from Francisco Liriano in the third, then walked again in the sixth, seventh and ninth.

"I was anxious that one at-bat. I chased," he said. "But overall, I was pretty relaxed. For me, I've got to let the game come to me. That's the key."

Before the game, manager Joe Girardi had anticipated a nice welcome for A-Rod.

"I know Big G went through this and our fans were, you know, from what I remember, they were fairly positive towards him," Girardi said. "Alex has owned up, you know, to his mistakes. He's rehabbed very hard to get back to this point. He's an important part of our club and, you know, I think for the most part people want him to do well. So I would think that he'd get a pretty good reception.

"I think our fans will rally around him," he went on. "New York fans have always been great fans. They've always been fans that have given people second chances, fans that have given people third chances, too."


C Jorge Posada (hamstring) is about 85 percent, manager Joe Girardi said. He won't be ready to come off the DL when he is eligible next Wednesday, general manager Brian Cashman said. RHP Brian Bruney (shoulder) threw his second bullpen session and could be activated next week.

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