A-Rod healthy and upbeat

Posted Feb. 21, 2011, at 6:23 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 21, 2011, at 11:41 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. — Alex Rodriguez arrived at spring training and promptly discussed the most significant activity of his offseason: getting fed popcorn by Cameron Diaz at the Super Bowl in the snack seen ’round the world.

The New York Yankees third baseman, known for dating actress Kate Hudson during the 2009 World Series, was pictured on TV with Diaz in a suite at the game in Arlington, Texas.

“Did anyone watch the Super Bowl?” Rodriguez said to laughter Monday. “No popcorn endorsements yet, but our lines are open. Who would be upset about getting fed popcorn?”

Laughter quickly changed to a more serious tone when the discussion shifted to Rodriguez’s onfield game the past two years, which declined following right hip surgery in March 2009.

The 13-time All-Star and three-time AL MVP was cleared during the offseason by Dr. Marc Philippon to end his combination rehab-workout program and resume his normal offseason routine. The result is a leaner A-Rod, down 5 or 6 pounds to around 222.

“This is as healthy as I’ve felt over the last several years,” the 35-year-old Rodriguez said. “It’s fun getting back to work. I have a good winter behind me of real work, probably my first since ’07 or ’08. I’m ready to go.”

The Yankees are coming off a six-game loss to Texas in the AL championship series, which followed a season in which A-Rod won his first World Series ring.

“I hear there’s a lot of doubters out there, which is fun,” Rodriguez said. “We were two wins shy of the World Series. With the exception of Swish (Nick Swisher) and Robbie (Robinson Cano), I think the other seven guys, if you ask them, all of us would say there’s a lot of room for improvement. And that start’s with me.”

Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner expects a big season from Rodriguez.

“The guy can still do it big time, no question,” Steinbrenner said.

Two years ago, Rodriguez arrived at spring training and held an emotional news conference during which he admitted using performance-enhancing drops. His arrival was more low-key this year.

“I believe I’m in a better place after all the things that have gone on,” Rodriguez said. “I felt a sense of liberation. Just really enjoying my life, enjoying the game and enjoying my teammates.”

Rodriguez will continue to have the hip examined twice a year. He didn’t completely rule out the possibility that he could face another operation in the future.

Both Rodriguez and Steinbrenner were impressed by Boston’s offseason moved, which included the additions of left fielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

“They always do a great job,” Rodriguez said. “They know what they’re doing. They got two great players. Last year they went through injuries. They’re going to be tough to beat this year. I know they’re excited to have a great year, and so are we.”

Steinbrenner thinks Boston owner John Henry is serious about winning.

“John is as committed as we are, and that’s the bottom line,” Steinbrenner said. “He’ll do what he needs to do.”

Steinbrenner thinks the AL East may be the best division in all of American sports.

“It’s always going to be the Yankees and Red Sox and whoever else right now,” he said. “Now it’s the Phillies who look very tough.”

When asked what he was focused on, Rodriguez said “28,” which would be the Yankees’ total of World Series titles with another one.

“I think all the guys are ready for the challenge,” Rodriguez said. “The feeling we were left with in Texas was not good.”

NOTES: Closer Mariano Rivera should have his first bullpen session Wednesday or Thursday. The right-hander has been taking a slower approach at spring training the past few years. … Rodriguez doesn’t think ace CC Sabathia, who can opt of his contract after this season, will leave the team. “I know that CC enjoys being a Yankee very much,” Rodriguez said. “We love having him.” … LHP Boone Logan brought out an ice pack from the clubhouse for a girl in the stands he accidentally hit with a thrown ball on the lower right arm. Stadium medical staff treated the injury.

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