The concrete compound of George M. Steinbrenner Field awaits in Tampa, Fla., prepared daily for the arrival of the 2009 Yankees -- a high-profile club with high hopes, one that looked to restock for spring by writing $441 million in checks to win the winter.
There would be -- as always -- an Alex Rodriguez controversy to discuss, defuse or disseminate, depending on your job description.
The 447 pages sent to shelves by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, wrapped by a cover reading "The Yankee Years," should have fueled the slowest days of Spring Training all by itself -- that is, if CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira weren't interesting enough.
Few could have imagined that, less than a week before the Yankees' pitchers and catchers report, Torre's book would be relegated to the bargain bin of clubhouse discussion.
Suddenly no one is all that interested in what was reported in Torre's book: that people in the clubhouse called Rodriguez "A-Fraud," that he clashed with Derek Jeter and once ordered a teenager Tigers worker to make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
With Sports Illustrated's bombshell story Saturday that Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroids during his 2003 American League MVP season -- and A-Rod's subsequent admission that he used performance enhancing drugs -- today's buzzwords are testosterone and Primobolan, twisting the tale to a darker path.
There were no penalties for testing positive during Major League Baseball's 2003 survey testing, so there is no danger of MLB imposing a suspension upon Rodriguez that would interrupt his 2009 season.
Rodriguez's money is safe as well: Two sources familiar with Rodriguez's deal told SI that there is no included language about steroids that would put him at risk, so the 10-year, $275 million mega-deal remains on the books.
So A-Rod belongs to the Yankees as a complete package -- immense baseball talent and large potential distraction, all wrapped into one.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman did not respond to a request for comment after the SI story was published Saturday morning, as the organization considers how best to handle the issues that are certain to arise.
A-Rod since 2003
|Alex Rodriguez's at-bats, home runs and RBIs over the past six seasons|
But on Tuesday in Pleasantville, N.Y. -- the same day Torre's book was released -- Cashman said that Rodriguez is "excited" for the season ahead and ready to tackle whatever awaits.
"He's worked hard like he always does and he's excited about the new acquisitions," Cashman said. "He's actually stayed more in touch with me this winter than any other winter that I probably can remember.
"He was excited when we signed CC, pushing me to get A.J., pushing me to get Andy [Pettitte] and pleasantly surprised and probably blown away when we wound up with Teixeira at the same time. ... His attitude has been sky high and he's looking to hit the ground running."
But Rodriguez should have expected to be coming into camp dealing with something. For example, in 2007, Rodriguez had no sooner walked into the Yankees' spring stadium than he felt it necessary to announce that he and Jeter were not as close as they once had been.
"Do we go to dinner every night like we used to? No," A-Rod said then. "But we're good friends, we have a lot of respect for each other and we want to win."
Questions relating to the relationship have persisted to this day, ones that Jeter has tired of answering. Even without one-half of the dynamic speaking about the topic, the plentiful nature of A-Rod ammunition has kept the tabloid presses humming, both on the field and off.
If it wasn't taking a slap at Bronson Arroyo's glove, then it was yelling in Howie Clark's ear. A-Rod sunbathed topless in Central Park, couldn't decide on a World Baseball Classic team, then scored Madonna's cell phone number.
Was there more? You bet. Torre lauded Rodriguez for working harder than any other player, but also criticized him monopolizing the attention in the clubhouse.
"We never really had anybody who craved the attention," Torre is quoted as saying. "I think when Alex came over he certainly changed just the feel of the club."
The scrutiny upon Rodriguez's actions has been consistent, but not always fair, a point Torre made in the book. None of it will have the long-term impact that the SI article could, if the shockwaves ring true and Rodriguez is in fact a confirmed steroid user.
The Yankees are not unfamiliar with the process. In 2005, Jason Giambi apologized for his involvement in the BALCO scandal, then earned Comeback Player of the Year honors. Most recently, Pettitte was welcomed back after an admission of human growth hormone use.
Yet Rodriguez -- a player so magnificent that he signed a contract including $30 million in bonuses if he breaks baseball's hallowed home run record -- may be a different case.
Several writers have already opined in print that they will not vote for Rodriguez as a Baseball Hall of Famer based upon the SI article. With A-Rod's contract running through 2017, those stances could very well change by the time Rodriguez appears on the 2022 ballot.
Rodriguez has 553 home runs and needs just 210 more to pass Barry Bonds, making that immortal accomplishment seem likely in his future. How his career is viewed as a whole could be shaped by what A-Rod says and does in the next few weeks.
Rodriguez was approached on Thursday by reporter Selena Roberts at the University of Miami and did not deny the possibility of a positive test, instead telling her, "You'll have to talk to the union. I'm not saying anything."
Rodriguez made no statement on Sunday.
"Alex has been out of the country. I expect him back later today and want to confer with my client before saying anything," agent Scott Boras said.
On Monday, Rodriguez broke his silence in an interview with ESPN's Peter Gammons. In it, A-Rod admitted using performance-enhancing drugs in 2001-03 while with the Texas Rangers.
It was only last spring that Pettitte borrowed the spotlight for a low moment, apologizing before his teammates and the press. Speaking on Feb. 18, Pettitte said that his actions had been "stupid" and "desperate," apologizing to his teams, teammates and fans.
That day, Cashman said that baseball served as a refuge for off-the-field issues.
"I think you'll see the smile back on his face," Cashman said of Pettitte.
Soon enough, he did. When will A-Rod be able to grin again?
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.