Rome Braves leadoff hitter Kyle Wren looked down the third base line and saw New York Yankees perennial All-Star Alex Rodriguez inching toward the grass on the infield.
The night before when Wren had learned that Rodriguez would be in the lineup for the Charleston RiverDogs on a rehab assignment, he called his brother Colby, to talk a little strategy.
The Wren brothers decided to see just how well Rodriguez, 37, would be able to move after having offseason hip surgery that has kept the New York Yankees third baseman out of the lineup all season.
On the first pitch of the game, Wren laid down a perfect bunt and began sprinting toward first base. Rodriguez came charging in, scooped the ball up with his right hand and made the throw to first.
It wasn’t in time.
“I figured I’d drop down a bunt on (Rodriguez) in the first inning and maybe 10 or 15 years from now it’s something I could tell my kids about,” said Wren, who played this past spring at Georgia Tech. “I got to play three innings against one of the greatest players of all time and I got a hit against him.
“Right before the pitch, I saw (Rodriguez) kind of creep up and I wasn’t going to bunt, but then I was like, I gotta do it.”
Wren, whose father Frank is the general manager for the Atlanta Braves, stood on first base with a huge grin on his face barely able to stifle his laughter.
“I was laughing when I got on first because what I’d planned with Colby the night before had come true,” Wren said. “I think everyone on our team was in awe of A-Rod. It’s hard not to be. He’s one of the guys everyone grew up watching. It was great just to get a chance to play against him and be on the same field.”
It wasn’t exactly the kind of return that Rodriguez had hoped for after being away from the game for nine month.
Rodriguez went hitless in two at-bats — hitting into a double play in the first inning and striking out in the third — in his 2013 debut.
But the results didn’t seem to matter to Rodriguez or the standing-room-only crowd of 8,255 at Riley Park Tuesday night who saw the RiverDogs rally for a 4-2 victory over the Braves.
“I had a blast out there, great atmosphere, great fans,” Rodriguez said. “That was pretty impressive for (Class) A ball. There were a lot of fans out there. Everyone seemed to be having a great time. It was a great blessing to be back out there. It’s been a long fight, a long climb and I’m just pretty excited to get a couple of at bats and get into the mix a little bit.”
Rodriguez said he didn’t know what to expect in his first game back, but a bunt on the opening pitch didn’t factor into his thinking.
“That’s a welcome-back play,” Rodriguez said with a chuckle. “It was a heck of a bunt. It always seems to work out like that. I actually thought I’d have to dive the first play. I think they were just picking on the old man. I told them I’m 38 years old.”
It’s so soon into his rehab process that the results on the field or at the plate don’t seem to matter much for Rodriguez.
“I put the ball into play and that’s a success,” he said. “It’s a progression. Three innings is not a lot and two at bats is not a lot. It almost feels like March 1 and the start of spring training, and that’s the basic approach I’m taking. I’ve got 19 more days and counting, and you’ve got to be smart about your work.
“I think you start paying attention maybe 10 games out when you’re getting closer. I think what I’m looking for is how my body reacts when I wake up tomorrow. The pain and the aches and make sure I can work through those things.”
Rodriguez has played on the biggest stages in baseball, but after a nine-month absence, he admitted to being a little nervous at the start of the game.
“You’re always a little excited to be out there,” Rodriquez said. “It’s been nine months. It was good to get back out there and take some rust off.”
Rodriguez wasn’t the only Yankee in the lineup for the RiverDogs Tuesday night. Yankees backup infielder Eduardo Nunez, who played for the RiverDogs during the 2006-07 seasons, had two hits in three at bats. He is rehabbing a strained oblique.
“It was fun to be back in this ballpark,” Nunez said. “I have some good memories from playing here.”
Rodriguez and Nunez said it was fun to rub elbows with some Yankee hopefuls and a reminder of what it means to play in the big leagues.
“It’s so nice to play with these young kids,” Rodriguez said. “Part of the rehab that’s a blast is to have conversations with these kids. They have such great dreams.”
When Rodriguez left the game after the third inning, he spent about 30 minutes signing autographs along the first base line for fans. Rodriguez and Nunez will be back in the lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Braves.
“Tonight was a good start and hopefully I can build on that for (Wednesday),” Rodriguez said. “It was a pretty awesome atmosphere here in South Carolina.”
Alex Rodriguez, Yankees third baseman, returns to the dugout as fans cheer during his game as a member of the Charleston Riverdogs against the Rome Braves Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at Riley Park.(Paul Zoeller/postandcourier.com)×