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A-Rod takes modest route in twilight of career

Slugger seeks positive finish with 2 years left on contract
MLB.com @boomskie

TAMPA, Fla. -- Alex Rodriguez wouldn't come right out and say it on Thursday during his first news conference of Spring Training at Steinbrenner Field, but this year and next are probably his last as a Major League player.

Rodriguez will be 41 on July 27 and has two years remaining on his Yankees contract at $21 million a season. He's in the twilight of his career, and it's never too early to talk about his legacy.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Alex Rodriguez wouldn't come right out and say it on Thursday during his first news conference of Spring Training at Steinbrenner Field, but this year and next are probably his last as a Major League player.

Rodriguez will be 41 on July 27 and has two years remaining on his Yankees contract at $21 million a season. He's in the twilight of his career, and it's never too early to talk about his legacy.

"I do love the game. I'm madly in love with the game of baseball, that's for sure, but I won't be playing five more years," Rodriguez said, when asked if he'd like to play into his mid-40s. "Coming into last year, I just thought about [taking it] one day at a time. There was a lot of chatter [about] if I would make the team or not. I know we were talking a lot about that at this time.

"And so, at age 40 with two hip surgeries I'm day to day. I plan to prepare hard and play as long as my body lets me."

A year ago, any talk about A-Rod's lasting impact on the game would have been preposterous. He was coming off a two-year absence, losing most of 2013 because of hip surgery and all of '14 after his season-long suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

There was some sentiment within the Yankees organization to simply just pay off the final three years of Rodriguez's contract and let him go. Cooler heads prevailed.

"Look, I know I've made some big mistakes, and that's never going to go away," he said. "I'm at first base and I have a long way to go. I know when I was away in 2014, I really missed the clubhouse. I missed the guys. I missed competing. This is what I know."

With that in mind last year, Yankees manager Joe Girardi told A-Rod to put away his fielding glove and concentrate on getting himself back into condition to hit. When Spring Training started, his bat speed was so slow there was some doubt that he'd make it back even as a designated hitter.

But then the season began and everything fell into place. Rodriguez passed Willie Mays into fourth on the all-time home run list and is now sitting at 687. He reached incredible milestones with 3,070 hits, 2,055 RBIs and 2,002 runs scored.

Video: Outlook: A-Rod hopes to continue his power resurgence

If Rodriguez matches last year's 33 home runs, he'll become the fourth player in Major League history to hit 700 and will pass Yankees icon Babe Ruth on the all-time list. Ruth had 714, 659 of them for the Yanks. From there, only Barry Bonds at 762 and Hank Aaron at 755 would remain.

"I hope he does it during the first half of the season," Girardi said, only partly in jest.

Rodriguez said on Thursday that he surprised even himself. But he deserves all the credit. Prior to the 2015 season, Rodriguez sought out Bonds -- now the Marlins' hitting coach -- for batting tips and traveled to San Francisco to work in the cages with him. A-Rod sought the advice of former Mariners teammate Edgar Martinez about how to deal psychologically with being a full-time DH. He tried to simplify his life and eliminate distractions.

Rodriguez even turned the Yankees around.

In the run-up to Rodriguez's 3,000th hit, a home run in the first inning off Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander at Yankee Stadium on June 19, there was hardly a mention made about it. But later in the season, the Yanks invited A-Rod and members of his family to a ceremony at home plate, recognizing the feat.

Video: DET@NYY: A-Rod blasts a solo homer for hit No. 3,000

And on May 14, the Yankees are staging A-Rod Replica Bat Day, with kids 14 and under at the game receiving a complimentary baseball bat. He's come a long way.

"I never would have thought that could happen," Rodriguez said. "One of the neatest days of my career was the day they honored my 3,000th hit. Having a day to share with my mother and two daughters was one of the best days of the year for me."

Last spring, Rodriguez said he had no idea what to expect. He thought 12 to 14 homers in 80 games was "a fair handicap." A-Rod had a great first half of the season, but said he "ran out of gas" in August.

"This winter, I prepared really hard again," he added. "I'm excited. I'm at ease. I feel like I can be productive."

In essence, Rodriguez doesn't know. One thing is certain, though, he's a much more modest person now. Frankly, much of A-Rod's public persona was once a front. This kind of candor would have been impossible. Not anymore.

"I think last year, I made a lot of progress, both on and off the field," Rodriguez said. "My life is not only about baseball. I have the next 40 years to be a father, to be a friend, to be an example for my girls.

"I said all last year, I felt very grateful. I have a lot of gratitude that I was able to re-enter the game and continue my career and hopefully I'll finish it on a positive note."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.

New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez