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Monday, March 2, 2009
Updated: March 3, 10:18 PM ET
Pressure on A-Rod will only get worse as season gets closer

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AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

The WBC will be the easy part for Alex Rodriguez. The pressure will hit when he gets to New York.

BEING ALEX RODRIGUEZ

By Steve Phillips, ESPN

There are a lot of people who think Alex Rodriguez will be largely unaffected by what's gone on this offseason. They say that he no longer cares what other people think. I don't believe that's the case. Despite his claims that he feels a burden has been lifted and now he can just go out and play, I think the burden has grown exponentially and he will be under pressure this year like never before.

When other players made confessions -- guys like Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte -- the fans accepted their apologies and went back to treating them as they had previously. The problem for Alex is that I'm not sure everyone accepted everything he had to say -- what he took, when he took it, whether he knew what he was taking, etc.

The fans have never really accepted him in New York. To his credit, he stood up and accepted some responsibility, and I think he should be recognized for that. And, in a certain way, I feel sorry for him because we have seen this hulk of player just crumble before our eyes over the past 18 months.

Now he's going to have to deal with how people react to his performance. If he performs well, people will be suspicious. If he performs poorly, people will say, well, there you go, he needs PEDs. No matter what, if people are inclined to boo, there are far more opportunities to boo in baseball than in most other sports because even the best players fail seven out of 10 times.

The issue will not be how A-Rod and the Yankees will be treated on the road. The Yankees get booed and heckled on the road anyway. The real test will be whether the Yankees fans accept him. It will not be whether they cheer if he hits a home run, because they will. The real test will be how they act when he is in the midst of that 0-for-12 slump and has left eight runners on base. My sense is that it could be a real tough year for him.

A big start to the season or success in the World Baseball Classic could help a little, but it's really all about October for him at this point in his career. The reaction from fans this spring or at the Classic really won't tell the story about what he can expect to deal with this season.

The fans who go to spring training and the WBC are typically going to be the hard-core Yankees or Dominican Republic fans who would be more inclined to cheer him regardless. It's how the bulk of the crowd reacts that will make the biggest impact. We won't truly know how he will cope with things this season until he fails. And baseball gives you so many different opportunities to do that even when you are great.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: March 1

BEST OF THE BLOGS

Each day ESPN.com's contributors offer a wide array of thoughts and analysis in their blogs. Today, Jayson Stark tells the story of how Team USA plans to atone for its failures in the last WBC:

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Three years ago, they had no idea what they were in for.

They had no idea how ready the rest of the world was. They had no idea how not ready they were themselves. And worst of all, the world-famous members of Team USA had absolutely no idea the World Baseball Classic was about to turn into their own little international embarrassment.

"We thought we'd crush everybody," Todd Jones, a member of Team USA's star-studded 2006 bullpen, recalled Monday. "So we were all concerned about playing time."

Oops. Not for long, they weren't.

They had no idea they could fall eight runs behind Canada by the sixth inning. They had no idea they could get shut down by a bunch of tricky Korean pitchers they'd never heard of. They had no idea that Oliver Perez and seven Mexican relievers could possibly outduel Roger Clemens and oust them in the second round.

But it all happened, in very real life. And the men who were a part of Team USA's 2006 WBC nightmare think they know exactly why it happened.

Three years ago, said Davey Johnson, a coach on the 2006 edition but the manager this time around, "it was kinda like glitz and glamour -- but not a lot of preparation."

For the rest of this entry from Jayson Stark's blog, click here.


Buster Olney was introduced to life at Disney. Let's just say life at the ballpark fits him better than life on Splash Mountain:

You'll have a great time with the kids at Disney World, my friends told me. It'll be so much fun, they said. A nice break from baseball, they told me.

What I didn't know is that my son is the Antichrist, apparently, when he gets within walking distance of a theme park. "Time to get up, Dad," he said Saturday morning, not so much lifting my eyelids as hoisting them. "The first bus comes at 8."

Now, to be clear, I'm not exactly cut out of theme-park cloth.

My parents bought a dairy farm in Randolph Center, Vt., when I was 9, intent on making their children's lives the most boring ever. Our big family trip was to the town of Randolph; once a week, we'd load up the car and make that six-mile journey. The largest body of water in the state of Vermont is Lake Champlain, which is an hour from where I was raised, and I saw Lake Champlain for the first time -- no joke -- last year, at the age of 44. There were no such things as family vacations because cows have to be milked every day, twice a day, and I really didn't know that much about Disney because we didn't have a television.

So I can't say that I was teeming with enthusiasm when the kids excitedly explained to me that they wanted to be among the first on a ride called Splash Mountain. But, hey, it was for the kids, and after 30 years of haranguing my parents about the boredom they manifested in us, I was in no position to argue.

It's a great ride, Sydney and Jake insisted, and they yanked on my arms and pulled me past the castle at Disney World, then shoved me into the backseat of some small boatlike thing. Jake, the 4-year-old, grinned in a way that revealed all of his teeth. "This is great," he said.

For the rest of this entry from Buster Olney's blog, click here.

BBTN ON THE AIR: TUESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
3:30 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume

BBTN MINUTE: A-ROD CIRCUS OFF TO WBC

BASEBALL TONIGHT MAILBAG

Inside EdgeHave a question for one of our analysts? Ever wonder what it's like behind the scenes at "Baseball Tonight"? Curious about a player or a team or an executive?

Well, ask away here, at the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse mailbag. Each week, our experts will answer your questions.

WORKING OUT WITH JUSTIN MORNEAU

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, the focus falls on baseball's RBI leaders over the past three seasons:

Most RBIs, past three seasons
RBIs Homers Doubles Sac flies
Ryan Howard 431 153 77 19
Alex Rodriguez 380 124 90 18
Justin Morneau 370 88 115 30

MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Ken Griffey Jr.• It's a long time coming, but Ken Griffey Jr. will again play with the Seattle Mariners. Griffey's knee, on which he had arthroscopic surgery in October, held up just fine during a simulated game Monday, and he is ready to go Wednesday against the Australian national team.
WORST
Joe Nathan• If it seems as if someone else pulls out of the World Baseball Classic every few seconds, well, that's because someone pulls out of the World Baseball Classic every few seconds. Add Joe Nathan and B.J. Ryan to the list. Albert Pujols, meanwhile, will compete in the WBC, just not against the Dominican Republic.

SPRING TRAINING CAMP CONFIDENTIAL

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Orlando Cabrera agreed on a one-year deal with the Oakland A's on Monday, possibly ending Bobby Crosby's run as starting shortstop.

Cabrera has posted better stats (and, more importantly, has appeared in more games) over the past two seasons than Crosby, but his numbers don't seem to fit with the traditional A's plate discipline numbers. Cabrera chases more pitches and takes fewer:

The Cabrera comparison
2007-08 Cabrera Crosby A's
BB pct. of PA 6.9 7.2 9.9
Take pct. 53.9 55.5 56.9
Chase pct. 23.0 21.3 19.9

-- ESPN Stats and Information

FANTASY BASEBALL

Fantasy Have questions about how to build your roster? Whom should you choose early or late in your draft? Which catcher do you want? We have the answers. Draft Kit

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Insider Having a hard time understanding what spring stats really mean? BP is here to help. BP Daily

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