Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter were once inseparable buddies, a dynamic duo of major league talent and friendship.
Well, times have changed, and so has the relationship between the two All-Stars.
``Hopefully, we can just put it behind us,'' Rodriguez said as he sat in the New York Yankees' first-base dugout Monday at Legends Field in Tampa, Fla. ``You go from sleeping over at somebody's house five days a week, and now you don't sleep over. It's just not that big of a deal.''
A-Rod and Jeter were buddies in the 1990s, when Rodriguez was a young star shortstop in Seattle and Jeter emerged as a force that helped the Yankees win four World Series titles in five years. But A-Rod dissed Jeter in a 2001 Esquire article, saying ``Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him'' and ``he's never had to lead.''
Those comments led to a noticeable cooling in their relationship _ but it's not as bad as some make it out.
``People start assuming that things are a lot worse than what they are, which they're not. But they're obviously not as great as they used to be. We were like blood brothers,'' Rodriguez said. ``You don't have to go to dinner with a guy four, five times a week to do what you're doing. It's actually much better than all you guys expect, but I just want to let the truth be known.''
Jeter left the clubhouse by the time reporters were allowed back in. His agent, Casey Close, said later that Jeter didn't want to comment.
Rodriguez also talked about his poor postseason (``I stunk''), his pride at being the highest-paid player in U.S. team sports (``It's pretty cool'') and his refusal to rule out exercising the opt-out provision in his contract after this season (``I understand my options'').
In other Yankees news, outfielder Bernie Williams was nowhere to be seen, and general manager Brian Cashman doesn't think that will change.
``It appears he made his decision. That's all I can take from it,'' Cashman said. ``I'm assuming at this stage that he's not coming.''
With the emergence of Melky Cabrera as the fourth outfielder, the move of Jason Giambi to designated hitter and the planned platoon at first base, there's no room for a fifth outfielder on the roster. Manager Joe Torre said Sunday that Williams was hurt the Yankees didn't offer him a guaranteed spot on their regular-season roster. Williams doesn't want to play for any other team, and Torre said that if he wants to extend his career, he should report with or close to the other position players.
In Surprise, Ariz., Texas Rangers closer Eric Gagne threw off a mound for the first time at spring training, completing a 37-pitch session with no complications.
Gagne, who had as many surgeries (two) as relief appearances last season, said he'll do some light throwing Tuesday before returning to the mound Wednesday or Thursday.
``I felt free,'' said Gagne, who had elbow surgery in April and season-ending back surgery in July. ``It's good to get back on the mound again. I'm going slow, but feel really good right now.''
The 31-year-old right-hander, who won the 2003 NL Cy Young Award, was limited to 15 2-3 innings the past two seasons because of his elbow and lower back. He signed a $6 million, one-year deal loaded with performance incentives.
At Peoria, Ariz., Khalil Greene's left middle finger is still sore six months after he injured it, but the San Diego Padres shortstop insists it's not an issue.
``It's still sore when I swing,'' Greene said. ``It's in a loosening phase. It's hard to gauge because all the weather has been sub-50 degrees. When it was warm, it felt good ... There's still some sense of soreness, but it's not major. It's about normal.''
Greene was limited for much of August and September after injuring his finger. He hit .245 with 15 homers and 55 RBIs for the Padres, who repeated as NL West champions before losing to St. Louis in the playoffs.
At Port St. Lucie, Fla., Carlos Beltran said he wants to be more of a base stealer this season for the New York Mets.
After stealing 42 bases last year, the All-Star outfielder had just 18 a year ago.
``I know that if I'm healthy and I have no pain in my knees and all of that, I'll be able to do that,'' Beltran said after he reported to Tradition Field to take some light batting practice.
At Fort Lauderdale, Fla., shortstop Miguel Tejada arrived at camp and vowed to be ``a different Miguel'' for Baltimore this season.
Despite leading the Orioles with a .300 average, 24 home runs and 100 RBIs, and setting a club record with 214 hits, Tejada also drew criticism from within the organization for sometimes failing to run out grounders and being the last player to arrive at the ballpark most days.
``I'm going to be totally different,'' Tejada said after taking his physical exam. ``I'm going to be more on time. I don't want to say that I'm not on time, but I'm going to be one of the first ones. ... every day I'm going to be one of the first ones to get to the field.''
At Fort Myers, Fla., the latest Manny Ramirez mystery surfaced when teammate Julian Tavarez said his close friend would arrive late at spring training, and Boston manager Terry Francona said that may not be true.
Tavarez said the left fielder would report March 1, as he did last year when he received permission from the Red Sox to show up late. The first workout of spring training for position players is set for Thursday. The official reporting date under the collective bargaining agreement is Feb. 27.
``I spoke to Manny (Sunday) and he said he's going to be here March 1,'' said Tavarez, a reliever who joined the Red Sox before last season. He said Ramirez was with his ill mother in Weston, near Miami, about a two-hour drive east of Fort Myers.
Francona was reluctant to comment.
``That's unfair because I haven't talked to (Ramirez). There's a lot of, `He said, she said,' that I'm not too sure is true,'' Francona said. ``If somebody calls me and tells me something happens, it's easier for me to comment (on it) than on his publicist (or) Julian saying this.''
At Scottsdale, Ariz., Mark Sweeney showed up at spring training ready to strictly talk baseball, not the report that teammate Barry Bonds blamed a failed amphetamines test last season on something he got from Sweeney's locker.
Sweeney insists there will be no issues between them and he isn't harboring any hard feelings toward Bonds, scheduled to work out for the first time Tuesday.
``Everything's been fine,'' said Sweeney, who received a public apology from Bonds. ``It was over and done with. It's time to move on and talk about baseball, which has been good. Barry and I have been fine. ... That's how I am. I'm back to it. Everyone is in here. It's not about me and Barry. It's about everybody.''
At Kissimmee, Fla., Mike Gonzalez said he doesn't mind if he serves as Atlanta's setup man, even after going 24-for-24 on save chances last year with Pittsburgh.
``Obviously, the numbers don't lie. They obviously know I can close. That's not the question,'' the left-hander said. ``But if they ask me to go out there and be a setup man, then I'm going to go out there and be the best setup man they've got.''
The Braves haven't totally settled on the makeup of their revamped bullpen, but it seems likely that veteran closer Bob Wickman, who converted 18 of 19 save opportunities with a 1.04 ERA after being acquired by Atlanta last season, will be the main guy working the ninth.