Yankees players laud A-Rod's value as teammate

Teammate Mark Teixeira says A-Rod "is one of those guys that's always working so he sets a great example for young players." Jake Roth/USA Today Sports

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez spent most of his afternoon watching his team’s 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians from the New York Yankees’ dugout, much as he has done over the past month.

So after he announced Sunday morning that Friday’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays would be his final game in pinstripes, it became clear that his absence will be felt less on the field than it will in the clubhouse or behind the batting cage.

“[Alex] has been one of the better teammates I’ve ever had -- I’ve learned a lot from him,” veteran catcher Brian McCann said after the game.

According to Mark Teixeira -- who on Friday announced his retirement following the 2016 season -- Rodriguez is an invaluable teammate as an example of hard work and baseball intelligence.

“Alex is one of those guys that’s always working so he sets a great example for young players. He’s always willing to help. He loves to talk about the game,” the first baseman said. “He’s just a student of the game and, because of that, guys want to be around him.”

Unlike Teixeira, who will finish out the rest of the regular season before hanging up his spikes, Rodriguez’s playing days will come to an end more abruptly, if everything goes according to the plan laid out Sunday.

It’s an awkward finish to what, according to CC Sabathia, has been tough month for the 41-year-old Rodriguez.

“It’s bittersweet, I guess,” Sabathia said. “I’m excited for him to start the next half of his life but it’s always tough to see a teammate go. It is what it is. He talked about the cards that were dealt to him and he made the best out of it, so I wish him the best.”

Following Friday’s game, the Yankees will turn Rodriguez into a special instructor, and he will begin his duties in full next spring.

He has already gotten started in that role, though, while working with some of the Yankees’ younger players on the roster, including Didi Gregorius, Starlin Castro and Gary Sánchez.

Gregorius, a shortstop, has spent a lot of time working with Rodriguez, trying to pick up the subtleties of the position.

“As a kid growing up you see him on TV and then a couple of years later, here I am, playing with him outside. So it’s just awesome,” he said. “He took me out here last year and I took ground balls. He talked to me about the guys, about the league, getting to know the runners, trying to stay in control and doing what you can do. You always try to give it your best and it’s one thing that just stuck in my head since that day.”

For Castro, Gregorius’s regular double-play partner, it’s tough to see Rodriguez leave the game.

“You can’t play forever and we will all go through that,” he said. “It has been a pleasure for me to spend this season with him, and also the time we had in spring training. It is something very special to me and I will never forget what I have learned.”

Even Sánchez, who was called up from Triple-A less than a week ago, has grown close with Rodriguez.

“I felt a little sad,” Sánchez said, “He has always given me great advice. He has had a great career and has always given me good advice.”

It’s not just position players, though, that Rodriguez influenced. Both Dellin Betances and Luis Severino found Rodriguez’s leadership invaluable.

“For me, it’s just how to pitch to certain hitters,” Betances said. “Just about having a game plan. That’s something he’s helped me a lot with. I always ask him questions after I pitch, like what adjustments I need to make, what pitch selection, what should I do different?”

More than any individual thing, Severino insists its Rodriguez’s presence that makes him so valuable to be around.

“He has been an inspiration to us,” Severino said. “A player like Alex Rodriguez is not born every day. He has been very helpful to us young players.”

Following Sunday’s win, the Yankees travel to Boston for a three-game set beginning Tuesday. It is unclear how much Rodriguez will play in that series, according to manager Joe Girardi.