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YANKEES Rodriguez and Jeter not close buddies

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The relationship between the new Yankees' teammates has deteriorated.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Once the games start and Alex Rodriguez takes his new position, Derek Jeter will be standing nearby -- the mere 50 feet or so that separate a third baseman and shortstop.
Fact is, they used to be a lot closer than that. Off the field, anyway.
On Sunday, Rodriguez acknowledged their friendship had deteriorated in recent years. Once best buddies -- they kidded on the field and crossed paths on the dating scene -- the new Yankees teammates never have been the same since A-Rod criticized Jeter's skills and leadership in early 2001.
"When we came up, we were kind of tied at the hip," Rodriguez said. "We haven't been as tight the last three years."
Trace the bad hop between the shortstops to remarks Rodriguez made shortly after signing his $252 million, 10-year contract with Texas.
First, he said Jeter was unlikely to get such a salary "because he just doesn't do the power numbers and defensively he doesn't do all those things."
Then, talking about a player whose team had won three straight World Series championships, Rodriguez said of Jeter: "He's never had to lead. He can just go and play and have fun. He hits second -- that's totally different than third or fourth in a lineup."
Immediately, Rodriguez knew Jeter was stung by the comments.
"Right after it happened, I drove to his house in Tampa," Rodriguez said Sunday. After the 2 1/2-hour trip from his spring training home in Fort Myers, Rodriguez talked with Jeter for more than an hour, trying to explain what he meant.
"From that day on, I thought it was behind us," Rodriguez said. "At that time, I thought it was behind us."
Apparently not. Because even though they've both said all the right things since Rodriguez was traded from Texas to New York, clearly there's been a distinct coolness.
Jeter looked uncomfortable helping the AL MVP put on his pinstriped uniform at a lavish ceremony at Yankee Stadium last week, and did not go out of his way to be part of Rodriguez's first session at third base.
Jeter has been working out at the minor league complex, but he wasn't in camp Sunday. The first official practice for position players is Tuesday.
As for any potential problems with the guy who will be playing about 50 feet to his right, Jeter brushed it off.
"I'm not bothered. I mean, it gets old," he said. "You can only ask the same question so many times. You're going to get the same answers over and over. So I think those questions will eventually end."
In deference
Rodriguez has done his best to defer to Jeter, on and off the field. Along with joking that "Jeet gets all the fly balls because I'm not too good on those," Rodriguez played up his teammate's role.
"He's the captain," said Rodriguez, appointed to the same role with the Rangers right before he got traded. "I look forward to following in his footsteps."
"If Derek was coming to Texas, obviously I would be the captain and I would help him out. It would be exactly the other way around."