"People start assuming that things are a lot worse than what they are, which they're not. But they're obviously not as great as they used to be. We were like blood brothers," Rodriguez said. "You don't have to go to dinner with a guy four, five times a week to do what you're doing. It's actually much better than all you guys expect, but I just want to let the truth be known."
On the first day of his fourth season with the Yankees, he did three rounds of interviews _ English-language television, Spanish-language television and print reporters. He talked about his poor postseason ("I stunk"), his pride at being the highest-paid player in U.S. team sports ("It's pretty cool") and his refusal to rule out exercising the opt-out provision in his contract after this season ("I understand my options").
A-Rod and Jeter were buddy-buddy back in the 1990s, when Rodriguez was a young star shortstop in Seattle and Jeter emerged as a force that helped the New York Yankees win four World Series titles in five years. But A-Rod dissed Jeter in a 2001 Esquire article, saying "Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him" and "he's never had to lead."
"You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie (Williams) and (Paul) O'Neill," A-Rod was quoted as saying. "You never say, `Don't let Derek beat you.' He's never your concern."
Since Rodriguez was acquired by the Yankees in 2004, their relationship has been analyzed and dissected, a soap-opera sidebar to New York's repeated postseason failures.
Until now, A-Rod had denied their relationship had changed. Sitting in jeans and a black sweat jacket, Rodriguez said it was "important" that people heard the truth directly from him.
"Let's make a contract," Rodriguez said after the first Jeter question. "You don't ask me about Derek anymore, and I promise I'll stop lying to all you guys."
"The reality is there's been a change in the relationship over 14 years and, hopefully, we can just put it behind us," he went on. "You go from sleeping over at somebody's house five days a week, and now you don't sleep over. It's just not that big of a deal."
Jeter had left the clubhouse by the time reporters were allowed back in. His agent, Casey Close, said later that Jeter didn't want to comment.
Most of the Yankees have long concluded the relationship between their captain and Rodriguez is a non-issue.
"They're probably not as tight as they used to be, but it's not a situation where they don't look at each other and don't say, `Hi.' They're teammates and they're still friends," Jason Giambi said.
"I suspect it's nowhere near as bad as the general perception is," general manager Brian Cashman added.
During the offseason, former Yankee Darryl Strawberry said Jeter needs to "embrace" Rodriguez. A-Rod said he didn't feel Jeter needed to support him more.
"I'm a big boy. I'm 31 years old now, so I should be able to help myself out there," he said. "I care about what he thinks about me on the field. I think it's important for us to be on the right page. And we are. We're here to win a championship together."
While Rodriguez won the AL MVP award for the second time in 2005, he was booed for stretches at Yankee Stadium last season, when he hit made 24 errors. Some thought that if Jeter spoke out on A-Rod's behalf, fans would go easier on him.
"Derek can't stop the fans from booing. They boo all of us," catcher Jorge Posada said.
And then came another abysmal postseason for Rodriguez. He's 4-for-41 (.098) without an RBI in his last 12 playoff games dating to 2004. He got just one hit in lasyear's playoff loss to Detroit.
"I stunk. And when you stink, sometimes, you have to call it," he said. "I went 1-for-14 last year with an error and that's pretty lousy."
As the Yankees were eliminated in Game 4, he was dropped to eighth in the batting order for the first time in a decade.
"It was very disappointing," he said. "Yes, I was embarrassed."
Rodriguez is entering the seventh season of his $252 million, 10-year contract, a deal he signed with the Texas Rangers. He can terminate the agreement after the season, forfeit the $72 million owed in the final three years and become a free agent. He also could pressure New York for an extension.
He said he wants to remain a Yankee, but wouldn't promise that he will. Like Mariano Rivera, he is thinking ahead to the new ballpark scheduled to open in 2009.
"My goal is to go in with Derek and Mo and open the new stadium. I'm saying it pretty clear, fellas," he said.
Steve Swindal, the Yankees' general partner, saw it the same way.
"I would love to see him end his career here. He's great. He's the real deal," was his reaction.
Rodriguez knows his contract has made him a target, adding to his burden. Still, he doesn't mind.
"I love being the highest-paid player in the game. It's pretty cool. I like making that money. You get crushed, but you know what? It's pretty cool. I enjoy it," he said. "I was poor and broke when I grew up. I didn't have that type of money to help out children. Now I get a chance to help out children. Whatever you say is important. People listen to you. That's pretty cool. Nobody used to listen to me before."