A-Rod: Return to Yankees will be ‘a great challenge’

The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez talks to reports outside the clubhouse in New York on Monday, April 1, 2013.  (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez talks to reports outside the clubhouse in New York on Monday, April 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez stood in the Yankee Stadium tunnel, just in front of the entrance to the home clubhouse. He was willing to answer questions for the first time since hip surgery in January but was positioned so he could make a quick getaway if he wanted to stop responding.

“I love when all these people say, ‘You can’t do this. You can’t do that. You’re done. You’re old,’ ” he explained before New York lost its opener 8-2 to Boston on Monday. “It’s a great challenge to prove all you guys wrong and everyone wrong.”

Three months shy of his 38th birthday, Rodriguez has transformed from a three-time MVP to a touchy subject. He’s owed $114 million in the remaining five years of his record 10-year, $275 million contract, and he’s viewed by many fans and even some in the team’s management as a drain on the payroll.

And that was before a January report in Miami New Times alleged he received performance-enhancing drugs from a Florida anti-aging clinic.

Making his first public comments since the Jan. 16 operation on his left hip and rejoining his teammates for the first time since October’s playoff loss to Detroit, Rodriguez said he has heard the same schedule for his return that surgeon Dr. Bryan Kelly made public: sometime around the All-Star break. And Rodriguez said he thinks he can return to perform at the level he once did.

“When I found out after the season was over about the big tear in my left hip, it was a bit of a relief to realize and understand how you ended last year,” he said. “Once it’s mended and I’m back to being 100 percent, there’s no reason why I can’t play at a very high level.”

Rodriguez hasn’t played a full season since 2007, missing time because of a strained quadriceps (2008), right hip surgery (2009), a strained calf (2010), knee surgery (2011) and a broken hand (2012). Before the latest injury was discovered, he was benched in three of nine postseason games and pinch-hit for in three others. He batted .120 (3 for 25) with no RBIs in the playoffs, including 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handers.

He thinks that if the left hip had been tested and the injury detected back then, he would not have been judged so harshly in October.

“Hindsight is always 20-20,” he said. “Obviously, if I would have, we would have never had that very tough ending, that’s for sure. Live and learn.”

While injured first baseman Mark Teixeira participated in the pregame introductions, Rodriguez opted against taking part. Fan reaction will have to wait for another day.

“I don’t need to be introduced to feel like I’m part of this team,” he said. “When I get introduced, I want to be on the field and not look back.”

Once viewed as having a good chance of breaking Barry Bonds’ record of 762 home runs, Rodriguez remains stuck at 647. His image was tarnished when he admitted in 2009 that he used performing-enhancing drugs while with the Texas Rangers from 2001-03.

The Miami New Times reported that it had obtained files showing Rodriguez bought banned substances from Biogenesis of America LLC, a now-closed anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla., run by Anthony Bosch. Rodriguez issued a statement then denying he had any relationship with Bosch.

Rodriguez said Monday he had met with the Major League Baseball Players Association to discuss Biogenesis. He said he stood by the denial he issued in January.