|Tuesday, April 17
Updated: April 18, 12:52 PM ET
A-Rod responds by saying it's a fun part of baseball
By Jim Caple
SEATTLE The only return that could provoke this much hostility from Seattleites is if Kenny G. suddenly moved back to town.
In perhaps the ugliest homecoming outside of Faber College, Seattle fans let Alex Rodriguez know exactly how they felt about his free agency departure over the winter. The area's loudest howls of protest since Starbucks' last price hike began when the Rangers shortstop took the field for batting practice and rarely diminished throughout the evening.
When Rodriguez stepped into the on-deck circle in the first inning, a nearby fan stuck out a fishing pole with a dollar bill attached. As he stepped to the plate, phony money, with Rodriguez's face printed where Peter Gammons' normally would go, cascaded from the stands. The jeers went on for about a minute before the first pitch to him, continued throughout the at-bat and resumed every time he batted or fielded the ball.
Even John Olerud, who grew up in the Seattle area, was surprised at the crowd's venom. And remember, he spent a couple years playing in New York.
Not that Rodriguez, who went 1-for-5 in Seattle's 9-7 victory, would admit he was hurt by the reaction. The man's every response is polished so smoothly that Michelle Kwan could skate on the words. He said nothing that could possibly be construed as negative toward Seattle, instead providing more expressions of love than you hear on the Jerry Lewis telethon.
"I don't think it was animosity," Rodriguez said of the 45,000-plus fans who jeered his every move, showered him with monopoly money and generally ridiculed his character. "I thought they were loud and not throwing things and supporting their team. I thought it was fun."
It must be nice to live in a world where you can receive that kind of abuse and not think it was personal.
If the jeers seemed a bit excessive, bear in mind that Seattle has had about as rough time of it in the past year or so as any city not located in North Dakota.
First, there was the World Trade Organization riots. Then Ken Griffey Jr.'s trade demand. Then the anti-trust ruling against Microsoft. Then the dot.com collapse. Then an industry-threatening energy crisis. Then a 6.8 earthquake. Then Boeing's announced move of its corporate headquarters.
So folks took A-Rod's departure a little more personally than they did, say, Russ Davis'.
Indeed, the Boeing situation contributed to Monday's reaction. Rodriguez inadvertently and foolishly stumbled into that mess with a letter to Boeing executives when they visited Dallas while searching for a new location for their headquarters. Rodriguez's role was pretty minor -- Rangers owner Tom Hicks asked him if he minded joining in a package with a couple other Dallas athletes that included a Mike Modano autograph and a bobble-head doll.
Rodriguez, probably not wanting to turn down a new employer paying him $252 million, complied, agreeing to attach his name to a statement that read, "I moved to Dallas-Fort Worth to improve my future. So should you."
As you might have imagined, that did not go over well in Seattle. Especially with Monday's fans who were attending Boeing Employees Credit Union Night at the ballpark.
"I'm a baseball player. The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone's lifestyle or what they do for a living," Rodriguez explained. "The only thing I wanted to do was a good thing for the people of Seattle, that if you were going to move, I think that Fort Worth is a good place to live, a good environment you will enjoy, much like Seattle."
That sounds reasonable, but just wait until his letter to Bill Gates leaks out.
"I don't know how the fans feel about me, but I can tell you how I feel about them and I'm very, very excited to see them," Rodriguez said before the game. "I'm very excited to play in this great place, in the Northwest, where I grew up (as a player), my old stomping grounds. If they boo, it's good. It's exciting. If I was 15, I might be booing too. It's good for baseball, rivalries are great.
"And I don't think they're booing me, really, they're booing the uniform. Because if I was wearing a Mariners uniform, they would be cheering me."
Well, that's kind of the whole point, isn't it?
Still, Rodriguez isn't completely wrong. No matter what, a player will receive cheers if he wears the home team uniform. And even if he donates his salary to charity and spends his offseason building villages for Habitat for Humanity, he'll be vilified if he dare accept an opponent's contract offer that every fan in the stadium would kill his mother to sign. It's just the way sports works.
This will be made very clear to Manny Ramirez soon.
Jim Caple is a Senior Writer for ESPN.com.