02/20/06 8:11 PM EST
A-Rod accepts Guillen's apology
Yankees superstar excited to play for Team USA at Classic
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
The White Sox manager, who ripped A-Rod last week for wavering between playing for the United States and the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, apologized to Rodriguez in a statement on Friday. In Rodriguez's eyes, the issue is now closed.
"Ozzie and I have always been friendly, which is why it was a bit surprising," Rodriguez said. "It's really not that big of a deal. ... I haven't spoken to Ozzie. I already heard what he had to say; he apologized and we've moved on. The apology is already accepted."
Guillen reiterated his apology on Monday, thanking A-Rod for handling the situation as he did.
"It was a tough situation for me and my family and my friends and the White Sox organization overall," Guillen said. "I think it's nice of him. He didn't have to accept it the way he did. He could have come back and say stuff about me or whatever he wanted to.
"He's a class act, man, and brings a lot to this game, both on and off the field," Guillen added. "I really appreciate the way he handled it. I hope this ends the whole thing."
Rodriguez's decision to play for Team USA in next month's WBC was not an easy one. After telling a New York radio station in December that he was leaning toward playing for the Dominican Republic, A-Rod did an about-face just days later, announcing that he would not participate in the event at all, as he didn't want to insult the U.S., his home country or the Dominican Republic, where his parents were born.
"It was tough on me," Rodriguez said. "I understand that most people will just ridicule and make fun of it, but unless you understand my background, where I come from and the passion that my family and my heritage holds, I don't expect anyone to understand that."
Rodriguez spoke with Commissioner Bud Selig and MLBPA COO Gene Orza for two hours on a conference call, as the two men tried to convince the reigning AL MVP to take part in the event.
"He's a draw, and that's what this is about," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "I can understand his reluctance to make a choice between the two teams, because he doesn't want to upset anybody."
On Jan. 17, A-Rod changed his mind and declared his intention to play for Team USA.
"Both of them shared to me the importance of my participation, what this meant to the growth of the game, not only domestically but globally," Rodriguez said. "If I didn't think this was better for the global growth of the game, I wouldn't be playing. I felt I owe this to the game; I owe everything to the game.
"I recognize what the game has done for me; the game of baseball has been me my whole life," he added. "It's given me everything I have. If not, I might be under a bridge somewhere. I'm very appreciative of the game."
Rodriguez was not appreciative, however, of the rumors that swirled about for a month regarding his decision to play in the WBC, and which country he would represent in the tournament. He blamed Major League Baseball and the Players Association for giving out the information, though he didn't point a specific finger.
"I don't know who was leaking or what, but ... all of the back and forth speculation was ridiculous," Rodriguez said. "That was very frustrating, because it was misleading to the people. I don't want to point to someone if they didn't do it, but the information was coming from someone. To me, it was, 'If I'm going to say something, let me say it.'"
Rodriguez agonized over the decision, even watching his Dominican mother and American wife debate the issue for two hours.
"It was pretty tough, but I'm glad I made the decision and I'm proud of it," Rodriguez said. "I'm very proud to play for the USA team. I plan to enjoy it."
Surprisingly, the reaction from Dominicans was not as bad as Rodriguez had anticipated.
"I thought I was going to get crushed; my whole life is about getting crushed," he said, referring to Guillen's comments and the bashing he took last year from Red Sox players. "That crushing is very inspiring, so I have a lot of inspiration in my life. I had a lot of support from what I understand. I don't go back there much and didn't go back at all this winter, but I thought it was pretty supportive."
A-Rod knows that the verbal shots he endures aren't about to go away, as he enters the second half of his 10-year, $252 million contract.
"Maybe when I retire or stop, but maybe on my way out, they'll kick me out the door, too," he said. "I use it as inspiration and as motivation. It is what it is. My firing back is when I'm in that box with that bat. I get to fire back and do all my talking, shut everybody up."
"It could make you more determined," Torre said. "There's a certain satisfaction from taking it out there as opposed to just responding to it."
Although several big-name stars have pulled out of the WBC, A-Rod plans to play -- and play hard.
"If I'm in, I'm in," he said. "Once you step between the white lines, it's very hard to say it's just an exhibition game. The bottom line is that you'll have USA across your chest, so you're going to live and die for a win."
Rodriguez's primary hesitation about playing in the WBC has little to do with the possibility of getting hurt, as that can happen just as easily in a Grapefruit League game. Instead, he's worried about getting his usual spring workouts in, as he prepares for his third season in pinstripes.
"I'm a wacko, a crazy man, when it comes to my routines," he said. "I'm a little panicky about how I'm going to get into my routine in Arizona, Anaheim and San Diego. I'm a little concerned, but I'm going to work on that."
Team USA's first-round games will take place in Phoenix, while second-round contests would be held in Anaheim. San Diego, of course, will host the championship game, so Rodriguez seems confident that Team USA will have great success in the inaugural event.
"Without a question," he said, "I'm expecting to be in San Diego."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.