Feb. 25 -- Lots of driving

7:08 PM

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I just saw that Miguel Tejada is dropping out of the World Baseball Classic because the Dominican team asked him to play first base. Curious, I went over to the WBC web site to see who's on the roster who's a better shortstop than Tejada. Holy crap. How about Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and, if they really want to get kooky, Alex Rodriguez?

I'm not much for handicapping, but you have to like their chances, no?

Course, now they need a first baseman...

Anyway, I digress. If you're here, you're at least mildly interested in the day I spent here in Florida at spring training. As promised, I did make the two-hour drive down to Fort Myers to pick up some Red Sox notes. I spoke with John Smoltz, who's recovering from shoulder surgery and has been working with fellow rehab pitcher Brad Penny in Penny's bullpen sessions -- something for which Penny is star-struck grateful.

But I didn't stay for the Red Sox exhibition game against Boston College (which I presume is still going on, with the Sox leading 214-0 in the top of the fourth inning). A freelance opportunity prompted a change in plans, and I made the two-hour drive back up to Dunedin to see what the crowd reaction was to A-Rod's first spring training game.

As I expected, he got a lot of boos and a lot of support. (Yankee road games in spring training always draw tons of Yankee fans who can't get tickets to the games at George M. Steinbrenner Field, nee Legends Field.) He walked twice and hit a home run, which indicates that the hip problem his hitting coach told me about yesterday isn't holding him back THAT much.

Afterwards, Alex spoke with us and said he'd had dinner Tuesday night with Reggie Jackson, and that Reggie had given him some advice. Alex said he was comfortable on the field, playing the game. "Everything else is confusing," he said. "Baseball is what I do best."

Talking to Reggie, we learned that it was apparently Hank Steinbrenner's idea for him to take A-Rod out and offer some advice. As for what that advice was, here's Reggie:

"I told him to hit the baseball. And hit it when it counts."

Of course, it didn't count today, but the message is simple: If you perform, the way Alex Rodriguez can, the fans (Yankee fans at least) will appreciate it and love you for it. And that'll make everything else go away, at least for the three hours every night when you're playing ball.

This makes me think it's more important than ever for Alex to start the season hot. If he struggles in April and the team is sitting around .500, Yankee fans will be all over him. Come on, Yankee fans. You know who you are. You will boo the everlasting crap out of this guy.

However, if he has an April like the otherworldly one he had in 2007, and if he carries that performance all through the season (and into October this time), then he won't have to worry about questions about the fans.

At least not at home.

Alex did have one funny line, when he said he thought the crowd went easy on him today: "I'd like to bring a couple of them with me to Fenway Park this summer," he said.

And Reggie talked a little bit about his own frustration over the idea of being passed on the home run list by so many guys from the steroid era.

"When I retired, the game was 140 years old, and I was sixth all-time (in home runs)," Jackson said. "Eighteen months later, I was 11th. I get angry sometimes. I've been reprimanded by the commissioner or the president of our team for saying some things about it, and I've pleaded with them to understand, I'm personally affected by this. I'm disappointed and I'm hurt."

He said he expected he would talk to Alex about this very topic at some point, but that right now he's part of the Yankees' organization-wide effort to make sure Alex's head is in the right place so that he (and the team) can have a successful season.

"He's my friend," Reggie said. "And he's on the Yankees, and I work for the Yankees. It's like Brian Cashman says. We don't have choices here. He's a friend and he's a significant asset for us."

I will be discussing this topic some more Thursday morning on "First Take" on ESPN2 at around 10:20 am Eastern, if you're interested. Otherwise, planning to head to the Yankees-Rays game in Tampa on Thursday and will let you know what I come up with from there. Hopefully I can pick up some Rays notes. The A-Rod stuff does tend to swallow everything else, you know?

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