Road To Redemption: A-Rod's Comeback Is Finally Being Appreciated

When hearing the name Alex Rodriguez, it is natural to cringe.

It's a name accompanied with arrogance, a trail of lies and a habit of cheating. It has come to be one of the most hated names in sports, one that belongs to the controversial designated hitter of the New York Yankees.

As of late, though, it seems things have taken an unexpected, positive turn for the soon-to-be 40-year-old and the city of New York, the concrete jungle he calls home.

But, if I do recall correctly, it was about two and a half years ago when the already-abundant amount of hatred for A-Rod began to pile up into a monstrous mountain.

It was a cold, winter day in New York City when the news of Alex Rodriguez's second performance-enhancing drug offense broke.

The man who was once hailed as the savior to the slowly dying game of baseball; the man who had been paid more than $500 million throughout his career; the man who had already been caught cheating once before and was given a free pass by the league, had failed us once again.

Then came the ugly verbal feud between A-Rod and the Yankees front office, which involved rumors of voiding the remainder of Alex's 10-year, $275 million deal he signed in 2007.

Basically, General Manager Brian Cashman indirectly told Rodriguez to, "Shut the (expletive) up," through the New York media grapevine.

In some ways, this brought me back to high school and all the drama that transpired between Long Island girls, but that's another story.

Evidently, it got worse.

Rodriguez was handed a 211-game suspension by the commissioner's office for his involvement in the Biogenesis PED scandal, the largest non-lifetime suspension in baseball history.

Unhappy with the suspension, A-Rod tried to fight the penalty he was handed by taking the league to court.

After a series of legal hearings and trials, the suspension would be reduced to a single-season ban for the two-time steroid user. He still wasn't happy.

Soon thereafter, A-Rod decided to sue Yankee team doctor Chris Ahmad, New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, Major League Baseball and, finally, his own union: the Major League Baseball Players Association.

A-Rod quickly became an a-hole.

Despite the numerous attempts to overturn the suspension, Rodriguez had only one option left: abide by the ruling and serve his suspension. Thus began A-Rod's season-long shun from baseball.

The offseason was heavily polluted by A-Rod coverage, and the regular season told a different story as the primary focus was the departure of longtime captain Derek Jeter.

With few exceptions, very little was heard about Rodriguez, as the Yankees swiftly swept him under the rug.

But, as the year-long ban rapidly dwindled down and Rodriguez's return seemed more of a reality, questions loomed regarding whether Alex would be able to compete at the Major League level again.

Already out as the third baseman, with the offseason signing of veteran Chase Headley now manning the hot corner, it was clear the Yankees had moved on from Rodriguez.

Entering his first spring training in almost two years, he would have to earn a spot on the Major League roster -- something he hadn't done for two decades.

Days leading up to his arrival at the Yankees spring training facility in Tampa, Florida, both the fans and media eagerly waited to indulge in the drama Rodriguez would surely bring to New York and to the league.

Boy, were we wrong! Yes, THE Alex Rodriguez had returned, but it wasn't the Alex Rodriguez we all loved to hate.

He arrived with a new attitude, one that focused solely on baseball, and let the his past scandals and off-field issues resolve themselves.

He successfully fielded question after question from the controversy-seeking reporters with the right, non-controversial answers. It was impossible for the media to use his own words against him like they had done time and time again.

A-Rod was beginning to sound more and more like the former Yankee who had retired months earlier, Derek Jeter.

Along with his new no-nonsense attitude, Rodriguez began silencing his doubters with his performance on the field. Through 19 spring training games, he had an encouraging .267 batting average, as well as hitting three long balls.

Needless to say, A-Rod won that roster spot.

Nowadays, A-Rod is back in the Bronx, and the city of New York has seemed to get over the dark times he brought forth. After a year away from the sport, Rodriguez has returned to don the pinstripes in a dramatic, yet egoless fashion.

He continues to remain focused on baseball, and it seems to have paid off. Rodriguez has served as leader and a mentor for the youth of the Yankees organization like Jeter's replacement at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, and top Minor League prospects Greg Bird and Aaron Judge.

But, not only has his character changed completely, compared to the egocentric Alex of years passed, but he's also been raking at the plate.

Already a quarter of the way through the 162-game season, A-Rod is hitting an impressive .276 against Major League pitchers he had not faced in over a year.

His power has also returned, having hit 11 home runs thus far. He's already tied and surpassed the "Say Hey Kid," Willie Mays, for fourth place on the all-time home runs list.

Now, without a labeled captain, the Yankees have been led to the top spot in the American League East by the same guy they so desperately wanted out not too long ago.

Treading along a fine line of being a great team or mediocre team, the Yankees organization needs Rodriguez now more than ever.

He was hated by so many, including his own Yankee fans. People said he would never step foot on a Major League field again.

Both the Yankees and their fans (myself included) wanted him gone. Yet we sit here, witnessing this unforeseen All-Star comeback season from Alex Rodriguez.

After a year away from the game he grew up loving, he has changed.

He returned with a chip on his shoulder, with something left to prove. Rodriguez proved us wrong, and now we eat our words. Although the old Alex Rodriguez was great for easy entertainment, the new Alex Rodriguez is even better.

For the first 11 years of his Yankee career, he lived in the shadows of Derek Jeter. Rodriguez was the scapegoat, the waste of money who failed to satisfy the New York crowd.

With Jeter now gone, A-Rod has become the face of the franchise, the leader and the unofficial captain of a team and city that knows only greatness.

Finally, after 11 years in the Bronx, Alex Rodriguez is appreciated.