MOOSIC - Steroids scandals and past postseason failures gave way to unaldulterated adulation for Alex Rodriguez when he pulled on a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders uniform.
It seems fans who flocked to PNC Field to see him Thursday just wanted the troubled star back in a New York Yankees uniform.
“I’m a Yankees fan, he’s a Yankee,” said Daniel Hoffman, who traveled from his home in Queens to watch A-Rod begin a Triple-A rehab stint with the RailRiders. “He can help the team.”
It didn’t take A-Rod long to show how.
He slammed a two-run home run the opposite way during his second at-bat for the RailRiders in the third inning of the Triple-A team’s 8-0 victory over Louisville, shortly after being robbed of extra bases when Louisville right fielder Josh Fellhauer made a terrific catch of his drive against the wall in the bottom of the first inning.
“That one felt good,” Rodriguez said of his shot over the right field wall. “The first one felt good as well.”
The homer was the only hit of the night for Rodriguez, who’s coming back from offseason hip surgery. He wound up going 1-for-4 against Louisville pitching, and played seven innings at third base without handling a chance. He’s likely to spend this weekend playing for the RailRiders before the Yankees decide if he’s ready to rejoin them Monday.
“I’m excited,” A-Rod said. “(But) we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Honestly, if I didn’t get another hit it doesn’t really matter. All I’m thinking about it hitting the ball hard. Anytime I get the ball in the air, it’s a good sign.
“I just feel so fortunate after such a big surgery to be back on the field.”
Fans at PNC Field were equally as enthusiastic about getting a chance to see him work his way back to New York.
“He’s a good player,” said Jim Eshelman, a RailRiders season ticket holder from Glen Ridge. “I respect him for being a good player.”
The really bad stuff surrounding A-Rod? Well, that kind of got lost in Thursday’s excitement.
A smattering of boos greeted each of the plate appearances A-Rod made for the RailRiders, but that discontent was quickly drowned out by a stadium full of applause.
“I’m really happy that he’s here,” said Yankees fan Ned Jones of Avoca. “I think it’s great for the stadium, great for the area.”
Some fans at the park went to great lengths to keep controversty surrounding A-Rod out of the conversation.
Some said they hoped he’d recover from three straight sub-par postseasons, where he batted just .219 in 2010, .111 in 2011 and .120 with no RBI and 12 strikeouts in 25 at-bats last October - when A-Rod was embarrassed by a benching in the American League Championship Series against Detroit.
“I think he’s a good player, I think him and (Derek) Jeter play well together, so I say ‘Why not?’ ” said Brooklyn native and current Pittston resident Florence Marchesano. “He’ll be 38 next week, how much time does he have (left), anyway?”
Possibly less than A-Rod thinks.
He’s been linked to the Florida anti-aging Biogenesis clinic and its distribution of performance-enhancing drugs, and met with Major League Baseball investigators about the matter last week. Long suspensions - possibly as long as 100 games - have been rumored for players found guilty of using banned suplements provided by the clinic - a matter which A-Rod flatly declined to discuss during a pregame press conference.
Some people in the stands talked about it almost hesitantly.
“It does bother me,” Hoffman said. “But it’s like that for a lot of players. He’s just one of the many.”
“There’s no proof,” Eshelman said. “He’s not convicted of anything I know of.”
“I mean,” Marchesano said, “who am I to judge?”
Judging by the reaction of most of the 8,256 fans at PNC Field, A-Rod’s past sins and failures are forgiven, for now.
“I just think he’s a great player,” Jones said. “I just hope he stays here a couple of days.”
As for the great steroids controversy surrounding A-Rod?
“That’s up to a higher power than me,” Jones said.