TRENTON, N.J. -- Alex Rodriguez brought the crowd at Arm & Hammer Park to its feet Friday night, turning on a 2-0 fastball from Jesse Biddle in the third inning of Double-A Trenton's 6-2 win over Reading and launching a towering fly ball over the monstrous left-field fence for a two-run homer -- a no-doubter.
"It's probably the best I've felt since we started this process," said Rodriguez, who is hopeful to return to the Yankees on Monday when they face the White Sox in Chicago. "I feel like I'm there. I'm ready to go."
After the game, Rodriguez addressed reports that Major League Baseball is preparing to announce penalties for players involved in the Biogenesis investigation. MLB is reportedly treating Rodriguez as a separate case from the other players involved.
"I think we all agree that we want to get rid of PEDs," he said. "That's a must. I think all the players feel that way. But when all the stuff is going on in the background, and people are finding creative ways to cancel your contract and stuff like that, that's concerning for me, that's concerning for present, and that's concerning for future players as well."
Rodriguez told reporters, "there's more than one party that benefits from me not stepping back on the field -- That's not my teammates and that's not the Yankee fans."
When asked who benefits, Rodriguez responded by saying, "I can't tell you that right now, and I hope I never have to."
For Friday night, at least, Rodriguez was back on the diamond and back in his old form.
The third baseman watched his home run ball sail out, standing just outside the batter's box as it soared into the Trenton sky. The sellout crowd rose to its feet, many with camera phones in hand, as Rodriguez flipped his bat and jogged around the bases, relishing the go-ahead homer.
With his days as a professional baseball player likely numbered in 2013 -- and perhaps beyond -- due to the Biogenesis investigation, Rodriguez played five innings at third base and took three plate appearances as the No. 2 hitter, going 1-for-2 in the first game of his latest rehab stint in Trenton. Rodriguez walked in his first at-bat before homering in the third and watching a breaking ball drop in for strike three in his final at-bat in the fifth inning.
Rodriguez's rehab will continue in Trenton on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET.
For most of the evening, though, A-Rod wasn't the player that has excited the home fans throughout his career. The stadium was packed to the brim, but there was a mixture of cheers and boos throughout the evening.
He received a mixed reception during player introductions, but it was mostly cheers. A five-pitch walk in the first inning brought about more scattered cheers, but in the top of the second, Reading first baseman John Suomi knocked a ground ball A-Rod's way. The third baseman had to reach to his left and the ball bounced off the heel of his glove. The sellout crowd began to boo before Rodriguez recovered and made the throw to first in time for the out. The boos turned to cheers from a crowd made up of at least some who were there to support the former American League Most Valuable Player.
A-Rod's image was plastered on an electronic marquee along the road leading to the stadium's parking lot, advertising the pair of rehab games that the third baseman is playing in Trenton on Friday and Saturday -- a pair of games that both have sold out.
Tickets, normally sold for $10, were pricing in the $60 range on some websites. For two nights, A-Rod had made the Trenton-Reading ticket the hottest one in town.
Reporters flocked down I-95 from their normal confines of the cushy press boxes at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium to pack Arm & Hammer Park to the brim. With an estimated 150 members of the credentialed media in attendance, the stadium's usual press box expanded to the concourse along the first-base line.
But when A-Rod came to the plate for his second plate appearance, boos showered down upon him. There were some cheers, but they were masked by the collective disdain from most of the crowd.
"Well, I think there's a lot of Philly fans out there and they probably don't have good memories of me," A-Rod deadpanned.
When he launched a home run over the left-field fence, though, the disdain was at least temporarily gone.
"A lot of people cheered when I hit that home run," A-Rod said.
It was a ball that Rodriguez said he would have struggled to put in play just a matter of months ago, let alone hit out of the stadium. The third baseman said from July 2012 all the way until his season ended in October, that was a pitch he wouldn't have connected on.
That, of course, is because of the hip injury, not all of the extra drama surrounding the former All-Star. The rehab from hip surgery, he said, has been "a challenge."
"Everything else has made it a little more difficult," he said, "but it comes with the territory."
The crowd reverted to its booing when he came up for his third and final plate appearance and hollered with excitement when he swung and missed on a fastball for strike two. When he watched a breaking ball drop into the zone for a called third strike, he again walked off the field to boos.
Still, Rodriguez was impressive in his return to the field and expects to rejoin the Yankees on Monday when they face the White Sox. He said that's part of the plan general manager Brian Cashman has laid out for him -- he'll play again tomorrow and do some short work on Sunday morning before rejoining the team on Monday.
"Unless I get hit by lightning," he said, "and these days, you never know."
David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less