IN BASEBALL, AS IN LOVE, it's usually best to avoid seeing each other for a while after a breakup. When Alex Rodriguez signed a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers during the off-season, the enormity of the contract coupled with his departure from the team that nurtured him amounted to something much more dramatic than a mere jilting of his partner of six years, the Seattle Mariners. On Monday night, he had to come back and face the team again, to confront the fans he'd wooed so convincingly with his winning smile, graceful play at shortstop, and well-timed home runs. The fans made it clear they didn't want to remain friends.
When A-Rod stepped to the plate in the first inning at Safeco Field, the boos echoing around the stadium took on an idiosyncratic feel as they built to a guttural crescendo. These weren't the malignant howls of a New York crowd jeering an opponent or derisive catcalls aimed at a slumping superstar. This was a heartfelt, from-the-soul yelp emanating from most of the 45,000-plus audience, a message that this elegant player's inelegant departure had struck deep.
Baseball insiders argued that A-Rod didn't deserve such treatment. The Mariners organization had issued a statement asking fans to behave themselves during the game and confiscated "K-Rod" placards at the entry gates, supposedly because they featured a radio station's logo. (The guards apparently couldn't stop the inflow of fake money, which rained from the upper decks during the first inning.) ESPN's writers and correspondents chastised Seattleites before and after the game, some noting wryly that anyone who wouldn't accept 250 million bucks should feel free to boo (and missing an opportunity to take a dig at the locals' greed; no baseball wags noted that some of the boos would come from folks who just a year ago were cashing in six- or seven-figure stock options). Mike Cameron, the center fielder who came to the M's in a trade for a previous departed franchise player, Ken Griffey Jr., told me before the game that he thought fans should be respectful. "Why would anybody react negatively to somebody who did as much for this city as he did?" Cameron wondered.
Why, indeed. Perhaps because in baseball, as in love and war, another area analogous to the A-Rod situation, all is fair.
RICHARD A. MARTIN firstname.lastname@example.org