NEW YORK - For a few moments on Friday, it was just like old times for Alex Rodriguez. He was standing at the plate, with a fastball coming toward him, and he swung his bat with all his might, smashing the ball 350 feet over the wall. As the crowd rose to their feet, he jogged around the bases for a two-run homer. Reality then set in.
He made an early exit from the game in the fifth inning to face the media and answer more questions about his future, which remains uncertain with Major League Baseball set to announce its decisions in an investigation into alleged doping.
Rodriguez began by talking about his performance in Friday's game. MLB's highest-paid player had been assigned to participate in two rehabilitation games, the second scheduled for yesterday, with the Trenton Thunder, a New Jersey-based affiliate of the New York Yankees.
He has been sidelined all season because of injury but hopes to be back playing with the Yankees later this week, and he provided some cause for optimism with his homer to left.
"It's probably the best I've felt since we started this process," he told reporters. "I feel like I'm there. I'm ready to go."
Rodriguez, however, knows that his chances of rejoining the Yankees soon are likely to be determined more by what happens off the field. The 38-year-old is among a handful of MLB players being investigated over their links to a Florida clinic accused of supplying performance-enhancing drugs.
All face the possibility of suspensions in accordance with the sport's rules on doping. Speculation about the length of the penalties and when they will be announced has dominated the American sports media for the past week, even though MLB has remained silent while the investigation continues.
So far, only one player, Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun, has been penalized. The National League's Most Valuable Player just two years ago, Braun accepted a 65-game suspension, ruling him out for the rest of this season. He has also lost his lucrative contract with Nike, with the sportswear company announcing Friday that it was cutting ties.
U.S. media have speculated that the fate of the remaining players under investigation will be announced by tomorrow because it would allow anyone given a 50-game suspension to serve bans before the playoffs began.