I regularly attend Yankee games with my buddy Benson who has been an unwavering Alex Rodriguez supporter throughout his entire tenure in pinstripes. I remember teasing Benson in the middle of the Biogenesis scandal that he was A-Rod's last fan.
Rodriguez was not an easy guy to root for in those days. Fans will forgive a lot if a player admits his mistakes and offers a sincere apology. A-Rod essentially did the exact opposite. He went on Mike Francesa's radio show and blatantly lied about his PED use and involvement with Biogenesis. He sued Major League Baseball, his own union, and even the Yankees team doctor. He, or handlers, eventually thought better of this intelligence insulting, scorched earth approach. He dropped the lawsuits, served his suspension, and basically shut the heck up. A-Rod returned to the Yankees with an exceedingly humble approach. He spoke about just trying to make the team and earn at bats. One could question his sincerity, but Rodriguez was certainly saying all the right things.
When his bat showed some surprising pop during the spring fans began to hope that A-Rod might actually be more than a washed up, 60 million dollar albatross taking up space on the roster. I knew fans would give Alex a fair shake so long as he hit, but I was surprised by the reaction he received at the games I've attended early this season. A-Rod actually was getting the loudest cheers of any Yankee. Alex Rodriguez, the once hated steroid cheat was clearly getting the biggest pop from the crowd. Benson is no longer A-Rod's only fan. The Bronx faithful have gotten behind Alex in a big way, but the interesting question is "why?"
The first and most obvious answer is that he is hitting. The passionate cheers that Alex is receiving could have just as easily been fervent boos had he gotten off to a terrible start. Fans reward performance and A-Rod's resurgence is one of the major reasons the Yankees sit alone atop the AL East.
A second reason for A-Rod's increased popularity is that he fills a star power void on the roster. With Derek Jeter enjoying a quiet retirement, the 2015 Yankees lack an "A-list" name to put above the marquee. The best everyday player in the Yankee lineup is probably Jacoby Ellsbury, but the soft-spoken center fielder will never move the needle like Rodriguez.
Finally, a large number of fans seem to be fatigued with the steroid issue. Alex handled his steroid accusations terribly, but there is a sentiment among many fans that call into the talk radio shows that he has been unfairly singled out. Countless other players have been caught using PEDs, but few have been villainized to the extent of A-Rod.
Alex's improbable comeback may have reached a crescendo Friday night as he hit his 660th career home run over the Green Monster in Fenway Park. The pinch hit solo shot broke a 2-2 tie in the 8th inning to give the Bombers a road win against the rival Red Sox. Rodriguez teared up on the field in a post game interview with ESPN's Pedro Gomez. It is not a bad night when you can tie Willie Mays and beat Boston with one swing.
It is anybody's guess as to whether or not Rodriguez can sustain this early season success. It will surely be a challenge for the soon to be 40-year-old with two bad hips. It may not last, but when the Yankees return to the Bronx next week the loudest cheers will be reserved for the once reviled man who wears number 13.