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Last Year is History ...

So, too, is this April, but of a much happier kind for Alex Rodriguez, whose overhauled swing has reestablished him as baseball's most feared hitter

Posted: Tuesday April 24, 2007 10:19AM; Updated: Tuesday April 24, 2007 10:19AM
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Rodriguez became the first player since Mike Schmidt in 1976 to hit 12 homers in the season's first 15 games.
Rodriguez became the first player since Mike Schmidt in 1976 to hit 12 homers in the season's first 15 games.
Chuck Solomon/SI
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Bathed in the glow of three television screens and one laptop computer, Scott Boras, briefly without a phone to his ear or baseball owner beneath his thumb, reposed on a black leather sofa in his two-room, field-level suite last Friday at Angel Stadium. The über-agent, dressed in a black wool overcoat and gray mock turtleneck, had the look of a contented day trader, a master of the hardball universe tracking his properties -- in this case, his clients -- in real time. On the main big-screen, flat-panel TV appeared his Berkshire Hathaway, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the highest-paid and most-deconstructed player in baseball.

It was late on the East Coast, in Boston, no less, in a one-run game -- exactly the type of situation that a season ago exposed Rodriguez's vulnerability, even his anxiety, as a ballplayer. This year? Boras watched calmly, knowing better than just about anybody other than Rodriguez himself that A-Rod, in body and soul, is a changed man.

Entering this at bat, Rodriguez, 31, had already blasted his way to one of the greatest starts in baseball history. By the following Tuesday, with a week still left in the month, he would join Albert Pujols (2006) as the only players to smack 14 home runs in April, become the first player ever with a walk-off grand slam and a walk-off three-run homer in the month, and threaten the April record for RBIs (35, by Juan Gonzalez in 1998). He had at least one hit in each of the Yankees' first 18 games, and, through Monday, New York had yet to win a game without a home run from Rodriguez, who in name only is the same guy so hopelessly lost at the plate at the end of 2006 that manager Joe Torre batted him eighth in the Yankees' playoff elimination game in Detroit.

More than the "Doubleday ball" in Cooperstown, alleged to have been used in baseball's mythic first game in 1839, or Babe Ruth's 1932 World Series called shot, the sport's greatest source of debate might be what's going on inside A-Rod's head. Each operatic turn of his career invites, often with assistance from A-Rod's own words, armchair psychoanalysis. His current molten-hot streak is no different. Among the popular theories to explain it: He's more relaxed; he's mentally unburdened after admitting on his first day of spring training that his friendship with teammate Derek Jeter has waned; he's motivated by the possibility of becoming a free agent, should he exercise the opt-out clause in his contract after this season. This time, however, Rodriguez's change of fortune can be explained almost entirely by real physical changes, most notably a substantial reduction in his body fat and a rebuilt swing for which some of the credit goes to a guy who didn't make it out of the minors during his first 18 seasons as a player and coach.

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