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New teammates haven't been as close recently

TAMPA, Fla. -- Once the games start and Alex Rodriguez takes
his new position, Derek Jeter will be standing nearby -- the mere 50
feet or so that separate a third baseman and shortstop.

Fact is, they used to be a lot closer than that. Off the field,
anyway.

On Sunday, Rodriguez acknowledged their friendship had
deteriorated in recent years. Once best buddies -- they kidded on
the field and crossed paths on the dating scene -- the new Yankees
teammates have never been the same since A-Rod criticized Jeter's
skills and leadership in early 2001.

"`When we came up, we were kind of tied at the hip," Rodriguez
said. "We haven't been as tight the last three years."

Trace the bad hop between the star shortstops to remarks
Rodriguez made shortly after signing his $252 million, 10-year
contract with Texas.

First, he said Jeter was unlikely to get such a salary "because
he just doesn't do the power numbers and defensively he doesn't do
all those things."

Then, talking about a player whose team had won three straight
World Series championships, Rodriguez said of Jeter: "He's never
had to lead. He can just go and play and have fun. He hits second --
that's totally different than third or fourth in a lineup."

Immediately, Rodriguez knew Jeter was stung by the comments.

"Right after it happened, I drove to his house in Tampa,"
Rodriguez said Sunday. After the 2½-hour trip from his spring
training home in Fort Myers, Rodriguez talked with Jeter for more
than an hour, trying to explain what he meant.

"From that day on, I thought it was behind us," Rodriguez
said. "At that time, I thought it was behind us."

Apparently not. Because even though they've both said all the
right things since Rodriguez was traded from Texas to New York,
clearly there's been a distinct coolness.

Jeter looked uncomfortable helping the AL MVP put on his
pinstriped uniform at a lavish ceremony at Yankee Stadium last
week, and did not go out of his way to be part of Rodriguez's first
session at third base.

Jeter has been working out at the minor league complex, but he
wasn't in camp Sunday. The first official practice for position
players is Tuesday.

As for any potential problems with the guy who will be playing
about 50 feet to his right, Jeter brushed it off.

"I'm not bothered. I mean, it gets old," he said. "You can
only ask the same question so many times. You're going to get the
same answers over and over. So I think those questions will
eventually end."

Rodriguez has done his best to defer to Jeter, on and off the
field. Along with joking that "Jeet gets all the fly balls because
I'm not too good on those," Rodriguez played up his teammate's
role.

"He's the captain," said Rodriguez, appointed to the same role
with the Rangers right before he got traded. "I look forward to
following in his footsteps."

"If Derek was coming to Texas, obviously I would be the captain
and I would help him out. It would be exactly the other way
around."

A cordial remark, but certainly not like it was in 1996, the
season both players became regulars in the majors.

That year, with George Steinbrenner's permission, Jeter brought
Rodriguez into the weight room at Legends Field, the Yankees'
spring training site. That still remains the only time Rodriguez
met the Boss in person.

No stranger to squabbles, Steinbrenner said he expects
everything to be fine this season. Asked whether he anticipated any
controversy, he laughed.

"Nope, none," he said.