CHICAGO -- Alex Rodriguez is back with the New York Yankees, and with him came a circus-like atmosphere.
Rodriguez, who is appealing Major League Baseball's 211-game suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic, was activated from the disabled list, batted fourth and played third base Monday as the Yankees faced the Chicago White Sox.
Leading off the second inning, Rodriguez blooped a single to shallow left field in his first major league at-bat of the season.
The press box at the ballpark, usually half-filled to cover the last-place White Sox, was packed to capacity. Fans waited outside U.S. Cellular Field to see the former American League MVP arrive, and when he did, he waved. His return overshadowed Mariano Rivera's last series in Chicago and even Derek Jeter's latest trip to the disabled list.
Everything was about A-Rod.
"I think guys were happy to see him. He's a teammate of ours. He's a friend of ours," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the players, this is business as usual in a sense. There are things that happen when you're in New York that some people are going to consider distractions, but the one thing that these guys understand is it's your team. You go out and play as a team, and your goal is to try to win games, and you deal with the stuff off the field after the game."
Monday's game will be just the latest moment in Rodriguez's strange trip. Once one of baseball's shining stars, Rodriguez has gone through numerous controversies and spats. In the past year alone, Rodriguez has been benched during the postseason, undergone hip surgery, fought with the Yankees over his future and the health of his quadriceps, and been a focus of one of sports' biggest drug investigations.
"I want to express to you guys and the fans of baseball that the last seven months have been a nightmare, probably the worst time of my life," Rodriguez said. "Obviously for the circumstances that are at hand and also dealing with a very tough surgery and rehab program."
In January, Rodriguez had an operation to repair a torn labrum in his left hip, but that wasn't what most were asking him about. All anybody wanted to know was about his suspension and his decision to appeal on a day when 12 other players accepted 50-game bans related to their involvement with Biogenesis. The now-shuttered South Florida clinic allegedly provided the players with banned performance-enhancing substances.
Rodriguez said there was a lot that went into his decision, but he didn't say much more.
"I'm not going to get into any of that today," Rodriguez said. "I think ... obviously disappointed with the news today, no question about it, but what we've always fought for is the process, and I think we have that. And at some point we'll sit in front of an arbiter and give our case. That's as much as I feel comfortable telling you right now."
Rodriguez was also asked to deny his usage of PEDs but said, "I think we'll have a forum to discuss all of that, and we'll talk about it then."
Rodriguez's problems are far from over. It's unclear when his appeal will be heard and what the outcome will be. In truth, Monday was just another bizarre day in the life of Rodriguez.
"There's nothing about it that's been easy. All of it has been challenging. I'm sure there's been mistakes made along the way. We're here now," Rodriguez said. "I'm a human being. I've had two hip surgeries, two knee surgeries. I'm fighting for my life. I have to defend myself. If I don't defend myself, no one else will."
As for the team, Girardi said Rodriguez will be in the lineup as long as he's available.
"It really doesn't change anything for us," the manager said of Rodriguez's suspension and appeal. "If he's healthy and he feels good, we expect him to be productive and I'm going to play him.
"I think it's kind of clear what the expectations are by where I put him in the lineup. I expect him to drive in runs and have productive at-bats for us and he'll play third base. He'll DH some, too, because I know he has to work into that everyday playing shape again and he's worked hard to get to this point."
While Rodriguez took center stage, not everybody at the ballpark was overly concerned with the slugger's exploits. Some, like White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, are consumed with other issues, namely his team's 10-game losing streak.
"You've seen this team play recently. I've got 99 problems and A-Rod ain't one of them," Hahn said.