A-Rod 'down to earth' down on farm

VIERA, Fla. -- The teammates at his latest minor league stop have spent two games getting to know Alex Rodriguez.

And despite fans' boos and a 1-for-9 overall showing, they like him just fine, saying he's gone beyond acting like one of the guys to making an extra effort to talk baseball and share his knowledge of the game.

"It means a lot just to watch what he does and learn from him," said Tampa third baseman Peter O'Brien, a 22-year-old University of Miami product. "He's been a real cool, down-to-earth guy. The way he carries himself is neat to see. He's a big-time pro, one of the best to ever play the game, and you can see it. He's so easy and smooth. He lets the game come to him."

The road hasn't been kind to Rodriguez during his stint in the Florida State League amid a rehabilitation assignment with the Tampa Yankees, which shifts to the New York Yankees' spring training home in Tampa beginning Tuesday. He's been limited to one hit, has been hit by a pitch, was nearly beaned and was booed loudly during each of his at-bats at Space Coast Stadium on Sunday.

But the Class A players he has most recently competed with and against seem to appreciate his presence.

"He goes out there and does what he needs to do," O'Brien said. "Everything is done with a plan. He might only take 30 or 40 swings in BP, but every swing is with a purpose."

Tampa manager Luis Sojo commented on how instructive Rodriguez has been with his players, going out of his way to talk baseball and analyze situations.

"He has been great for my kids, just great," said Sojo, a former Yankee. "He's always talking baseball; talking about situations. If he wants to someday do what I'm doing, I think he'd be a good one."

O'Brien said players in the Tampa dugout hung on Rodriguez's words as they talked baseball during the two games he's played with the team after two games with Class A Charleston on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"He's in there in the dugout with us, talking to us about what the pitcher's got, what the plan is and what the approach is," O'Brien said. "It's been really nice having him around."

Tampa Yankees catcher Tyson Blaser said that one of the byproducts of having a player of Rodriguez's caliber around is the increase in attendance for a Class A game, and the subsequent buzz in the stadium. But just having Rodriguez in the dugout has been the best part, he said. That, and the postgame spreads that Rodriguez springs for. On Saturday night, he provided the team with catered food from Carrabba's, an upscale Italian restaurant chain.

"We're waiting to see what he does for us tonight," O'Brien said on Sunday, grinning.

Blaser said that as Rodriguez talked baseball in the dugout, he treated their minor league games with the same seriousness as if they were major league games, and that his passion for baseball came through.

"He'd be commenting on pitches, saying stuff like, 'That's a good pitch right there.' Or, 'That guy has a good sink.' He was talking pitch counts. He's a student of the game, and it's kind of humbling to see a guy who has that much big league time, and experience, being an All-Star, and being one of the best, that he still loves the game as much as he does."

Adversity has also been close at hand for Rodriguez. On Sunday, an errant pitch from Brevard County Manatees starter Chad Pierce almost hit Rodriguez in the head.

"You want to give him your best stuff, you want to give him all you got," said Cody Scarpetta, who on Saturday plunked Rodriguez just below his surgically repaired left hip, leaving an ugly bruise on his iliotibial band, a ligament that runs down the side of the leg.

"You could definitely feel the buzz around the stadium," Scarpetta said. "You know it's different, having him at the plate. Once he got back in the game after I hit him, I knew he was all right, so that was good."

Later that Saturday night, Scarpetta said he saw Rodriguez in Space Coast Stadium's weight room and apologized for hitting him.

"Sorry, man," Scarpetta said. "It was a backup curveball."

"So it was a curveball?" Rodriguez said, smiling.

"Yeah, man. Sorry. I wasn't trying to do that."