A-Rod admits friendship with Jeter has cooled

TAMPA, Fla. -- On the first day of his fourth season with the New York Yankees, Alex Rodriguez finally acknowledged his relationship with Derek Jeter has cooled.

Sportsbook.com has listed the Yankees as -225 favorites to win the 2007 AL East Division.

After insisting for three years that they remained close, Rodriguez said it was ''important'' to him to publicly confirm what others have said since he joined the team.

''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 Monday. ''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, the Yankees' captain, has distanced himself since a 2001 Esquire article in which A-Rod said ''Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him'' and ''he's never had to lead.''

''You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie Williams and (Paul) O'Neill,'' A-Rod was quoted as saying. ''You never say, 'Don't let Derek beat you.' He's never your concern.''

Sitting in jeans and a black sweat jacket in the first-base dugout at Legends Field after his physical, Rodriguez did three rounds of interviews: English-language television, Spanish-language television and print reporters. He addressed his relationship with Jeter in all three.

''We were best of friends about 10, 13, 14, years ago, and we still get along well. We have a good working relationship. I cheer very hard for him. He cheers hard for me. And most importantly, we're both trying to win a world championship,'' Rodriguez said.

What's changed? He made it sound as if they had just grown apart.

''The reality is there's been a change in the relationship over 14 years and, hopefully, we can just put it behind us,'' Rodriguez said. ''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.''

During the offseason, former Yankee Darryl Strawberry said Jeter needs to ''embrace'' Rodriguez. A-Rod said he didn't feel Jeter needed to support him more.

''I'm a big boy. I'm 31 years old now, so I should be able to help myself out there,'' he said. ''I care about what he thinks about me on the field. I think it's important for us to be on the right page. And we are. We're here to win a championship together.''

When he was first asked about Jeter, Rodriguez said this would be the only time he would address the topic.

''Let's make a contract: You don't ask me about Derek anymore, and I promise I'll stop lying to all you guys,'' A-Rod told reporters.

While Rodriguez won the AL MVP award for the second time in 2005, he is 4-for-41 (.098) without an RBI in his last 12 postseason games dating to 2004. He got just one hit in last year's playoff loss to Detroit.

''I stunk. And when you stink, sometimes, you have to call it,'' he said. ''I went 1-for-14 last year with an error and that's pretty lousy.''

He was dropped to eighth in the batting order for the first time in a decade as the Yankees were eliminated in Game 4.

''It was very disappointing,'' he said. ''Yes, I was embarrassed.''

While Rodriguez maintained he wants to remain with the Yankees for the rest of his career, he didn't rule out exercising the clause in his record $252 million, 10-year contract that allows him to opt out after this season. Rodriguez would forfeit the $72 million owed in the final three years and could use that to become a free agent or pressure New York for an extension.

''I want to be a Yankee and I understand my contract. I understand my options. I understand the interest,'' he said.

He doesn't mind that his contract has made him a target.

''I love being the highest-paid player in the game. It's pretty cool. I like making that money,'' he said. ''I was poor and broke when I grew up. I didn't have that type of money to help out children. Now I get a chance to help out children. Whatever you say is important. People listen to you. That's pretty cool. Nobody used to listen to me before.''

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