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Alex Rodriguez, Larry Bowa feel mutual admiration

Yankees third baseman, Dodgers third base coach speak fondly about their time together in New York.

June 26, 2010|By Dylan Hernandez

Initially, Alex Rodriguez said he couldn't talk, explaining that he had exercises to do and videos to watch.

But when Larry Bowa's name was mentioned, Rodriguez paused.

"You want to talk about Larry?" he said, looking up from his seat.

In the days leading to the New York Yankees' visit to Dodger Stadium, Rodriguez refused to discuss his relationship with former manager Joe Torre, who batted him eighth in the final game of the 2006 postseason and co-wrote a book that portrayed Rodriguez as a head case.

Talking about his relationship with the Dodgers' third base coach was a different matter for Rodriguez.

"I love Larry," Rodriguez said. "He's a good man."

Rodriguez and Bowa were together in New York starting in 2006, when Bowa was the Yankees' third base coach.

In a rare display of emotion, Rodriguez laughed as he imagined Bowa waving a runner home.

"He goes crazy," Rodriguez said, shaking his head. "He goes crazy."

On the surface, Rodriguez and Bowa made an odd couple, Rodriguez the politically correct pretty boy who was a No. 1 overall draft pick at 17 and Bowa, the outspoken overachiever who never made his high school team.

What they said they discovered in each other was a devotion to the game they previously thought only they possessed.

"I've never met anyone in the game where the game meant so much to them," Rodriguez said. "He loves the game. It's front and center in his life. That's the same way I feel."

As he has done with rookies such as Blake DeWitt, Chin-lung Hu, Andy LaRoche and Tony Abreu in his three seasons with the Dodgers, Bowa used to take Rodriguez to the practice fields at the Yankees' spring-training facility in Florida for 7:30 a.m. fielding practice.

"The grass would be soaking wet," Bowa said.

Bowa, a former Gold Glove shortstop, used to hit grounder after grounder to Rodriguez, often working him to the point of exhaustion. Rodriguez said he can still hear Bowa barking at him.

Grind!

Dig a little bit!

Get your nose in there!

"He's one of the hardest workers I've ever been around," Bowa said. "He's got so much natural ability, but I don't think he'd be where he is with natural ability alone. People don't understand how much time he spends in the cage or taking ground balls."

Bowa said that on most days, Rodriguez had already lifted weights and run before they took the field together.

"There's a reason for his greatness," Bowa said.

Bowa appreciated the effect Rodriguez had on some of the young Yankees, in particular Robinson Canoand Melky Cabrera, who adopted Rodriguez's early-workout routine. Rodriguez appreciated Bowa's blunt honesty.

Bowa said Rodriguez used to frequently ask him, "Should I have made that play?"

Even if the play in question was one most third basemen couldn't make, Bowa said that if he thought Rodriguez should have made it, he would tell him so.

The start of the regular season didn't change things much.

"See you at 3:30," Bowa said Rodriguez would tell him on the way out of the clubhouse after games in which he failed to make a play he thought he should have made.

"If he screwed up a backhand, I would hit him all backhands the next day," Bowa said. "If he screwed up a slow roller, I would hit him all slow rollers."

In the countless hours Bowa spent with Rodriguez, he said he got to know the part of him he keeps hidden behind his detached persona.

"He has a sense of humor," Bowa said. "He does, once you get to know him."

One spring, Bowa and bullpen catcher Mike Borzello told Rodriguez they would fine him $100 every time he was quoted saying something stupid in a newspaper. Bowa laughed as he talked of how he and Rodriguez would playfully debate whether a comment deserved a fine.

Bowa also saw Rodriguez buy new suits for rookies and pick up their dinner tabs.

"He was a lot about the young kids," Bowa said.

But what touched Bowa the most was how much Rodriguez wanted to win.

When the Yankees were eliminated from the postseason, Bowa said he saw Rodriguez cry.

"You saw tears in his eyes when they won the World Series last year," Bowa said. "That was not fake. That was real."

Rodriguez spoke with the same level of affection when talking about Bowa.

""He's the kind of guy you want to go to war with," Rodriguez said. "The Dodgers are very, very lucky to have him."

Rodriguez had no such thoughts to share about Torre, the tone of the interview shifting the moment his former manager was mentioned.

Asked about his relationship with Torre, Rodriguez immediately replied, "Next question."

Then he excused himself.

"Take care," he said.

The interview was over.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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