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A-Rod's next quest is Mays, but will you be paying close attention?


Fans may not care about Alex Rodriguez's HR after he admitted to steroid use. (Getty Images)  
Fans may not care about Alex Rodriguez's HR after he admitted to steroid use. (Getty Images)  

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez said this home run was special to him.

The question we still can't answer is how special the home runs to come will be to us.

There was no extra excitement Friday, when A-Rod tied his old Mariners teammate Ken Griffey Jr. for fifth on baseball's all-time home run list. Home run 630 may have had extra meaning for him, but it's just another number for us.

It's the guys ahead of Griffey who matter.

It's Willie Mays, now 30 homers in the distance at 660. It's Babe Ruth, 84 homers ahead at 714. It's Hank Aaron at 755, even Barry Bonds at 762 (although who among us even can remember that it's 762, the way we always knew 714 and 755?).

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"I don't allow myself to be a fan of what I'm trying to do," Rodriguez said.

But will any of us be a fan of it?

Some never will, because of the admitted steroid use that inflated A-Rod's total (and we'll never know by how much). Some never will because A-Rod has never been a warm, easy-to-like star.

Rodriguez can't change all of that now, no matter what he does. But part of the story is still his to write, and a lot of it will be based on how he looks, how he plays.

Is he already an old man at 36, as the scouts following the Yankees were starting to say after the first week of the season? Or is he still a true middle-of-the-order threat for one of baseball's best teams, as he looked in the Yankees' 5-0 win over the Angels in Friday's home opener?

If he's an old man, the milestone chase will feel like drudgery. If he's a revived star, then it will feel like something worth watching.

On days like Friday, when Rodriguez gets three hits and even steals a base, he can joke about his age.

"It definitely means I'm getting old, that's for sure," he said Friday.

On bad days, the .174 average and the slow-motion reactions and the constant injuries just mean he looks old.

When Griffey was 36, he was still a 27-homer guy. He homered 30 times at age 37, before tailing off dramatically.

He's 42 now, into his second full year of retirement.

Rodriguez is signed through the time he's 42. Barring career-ending injury, he's going to be around. Barring drastic injuries or drastically quick erosion of skills, he's going to hit a few of those milestones that were written into his contract, getting that $6 million for tying Mays and probably the $6 million for tying Ruth, as well.

But does he get there with years like 2011, with months missed because of injury and the home runs coming at a rate of about two or three a month? Or does he become the player he tells us every spring that he can still be, the player he said again Friday that he can still be?

"I think for me it's all about health and feeling good," Rodriguez said. "There's no question in my mind that if I'm healthy and have my legs under me, I can play at a high level."

On the morning of the Yankees home opener, Rodriguez wasn't even the focus. The team set up its usual opening day press conference for Derek Jeter, and set up one for Albert Pujols, as well.

"I'm actually enjoying laying in the weeds, letting others get the attention," Rodriguez said. "It's kind of a new role."

He'll never be totally hidden, of course. He hasn't been since long before that day in 1995 when he hit his first career homer (at a time when Griffey had already hit 179).

He and Griffey were reason enough to watch the Mariners in those days, and their relationship was important to A-Rod.

"He was a teammate, a brother and a mentor, all in one," Rodriguez said.

Griffey was the guy then who was supposed to find his way to the top of the home-run list. He got only to fifth place, one step behind the four sluggers who matter most.

It still took Rodriguez 16 1/2 years to catch up to him.

No one behind Rodriguez is catching him anytime soon. Jim Thome is 26 back and a part-time player. Chipper Jones is 175 back and retiring this year.

Pujols is 185 behind.

No, the next milestone watch will be Rodriguez chasing Mays, perhaps late this season.

"I think it's something to follow," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I will definitely pay attention."

Will you?


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