[UPDATE] Did I Just Witness A-Rod’s Last At-Bat?

Dispatch from Rodriguezpalooza in Trenton

UPDATE: MLB has announced 12 players have accepted suspensions for their roles in the Biogenesis scandal, including the Phillies Antonio Bastardo and former Phillie Sergio Escalona. Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for 211 games, pending an appeal from Rodriguez. The suspension, set to take effect on Thu., Aug. 8, would stretch to the end of the 2014 season. Rodriguez has been “penciled in” for tonight’s game.

UPDATE: According to ESPN, Rodriguez says he plans to play third base tonight for the Yankees and will appeal a suspension. Major League Baseball could rule that the star is ineligible to play while he appeals.

ORIGINAL STORY: There’s something peculiar about the way A-Rod jogs. He lifts his knees too high and puffs his chest too much. In fact, it’s not a jog. It’s a dainty trot, befitting a man who owns several portraits depicting him as a Centaur. Like his awkward high-fives and awkward little boy knee socks, the awkward trot is instantly recognizable to any long-time A-Rod observer. Two-and-a-half hours into Saturday night’s game — Trenton Thunder v. Reading Fightin’ Phils — it’s all the 7,000 person (capacity) crowd at Arm & Hammer Park has seen him do. 3 ABs and 3 BBs. Rodriguez, in town for a minor league rehab assignment, has been trotting to first all night long.

By the time he walks to the plate for his final at-bat, murmurs about the night’s big news have rippled through the stands. Rodriguez would be suspended 214 games for his role in the Biogenesis steroid scandal. By the time he gets out, after the 2014 season, he’ll be nearly 40 and almost certainly useless. Rodriguez says he’ll appeal any suspension and plans to play with the Yankees on Monday. But Major League Baseball may invoke a little-known “best interests of the game” clause that could keep him off the field while he challenges the ban. There’s a good chance we’re witnessing A-Rod’s last game as professional baseball player.

Before we get to the at-bat, however, a note on atmosphere. From the first play of the game–a harmless liner to third–the game is a complete Rodriguezfest. Women, children, and grown-ass men climb over each other for futile autograph requests. Two television cameras film nothing but A-Rod, refusing to shift focus even when the play takes place on the other side of the field. Phillies fans have driven in from wherever, just to boo.

I spend much of the night sitting behind the third-base dugout in a seat my $6.00 standing-room-only ticket didn’t entitle me to. My neighbors are a family of nine, the Orfes, from Bucks County. Papa Orfe, Frank, seems sympathetic to the fallen third baseman, marveling at his 647 homers. Mama Orfe, Joyce, disapproves of his cheating ways. Papa adds “alleged” to her charge. Across the aisle, one man holds up a sign that reads: “Yankees Have 99 Problems, But A-Rod Won’t Be One.” A large lady in a green shirt yells at him to take it down; perhaps it’s blocking her view of A-Rod. Quite unaware of Rodriguez before the game, grown daughter Orfe, decked in Phillies red, decides midway through the game she “loves” the Trenton Thunder anti-hero.

I leave the Orfes not long before 9:30 p.m., when Rodriguez strides to the plate for the fourth time. Pitching for the Phils in the bottom of the seventh is 23-year-old Juan Sosa, a righty from the Dominican Republic.

Ball one, high and outside. A-Rod uses his bat to knock some dirt off his cleats.

Strike one, down the middle.

Ball two, low and outside. A-Rod takes his time getting back in the box.

Strike two, outside corner.

High and tight, ball three. Almost plunked him. A-Rod takes a little walk.

Ball four, low and outside.

A-Rod trots to first. Maybe for the last time.

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