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Rodriguez has been tough one to miss

Rangers are doing fine without him

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Those "kids" in Texas have been all right without Alex Rodriguez, the MVP who was supposed to be their captain this season. Now they get an up-close view of A-Rod in pinstripes.

"It will be different. I'm sure it will be because we were used to having him," said Michael Young, the new Rangers shortstop and American League hits leader. "At the same time, that little nostalgia period will last about 10 minutes."

That's because the Rangers haven't been consumed by the loss of Rodriguez, who returns to Texas tonight with the New York Yankees. And Texas isn't at the bottom of the AL West as it was with him.

"People did not expect the Rangers to be in second place," closer Francisco Cordero said. "They thought we were looking at two or three years. We're doing it this year. We've been playing real good, having fun, and winning games."

The Rangers go into tonight just 3 1/2 games out of first place. Because of a strong start, Texas stayed close despite losing five of six games before playing Kansas City last night.

Texas lost 270 games and finished last the past three seasons when A-Rod led the AL in homers and was an All-Star each season, won two Gold Gloves, and was the AL MVP last year.

Sellout crowds are expected all weekend, the first chance for Rangers fans to boo or cheer their former shortstop.

"I'm excited about seeing a lot of the guys, but it'll be business as usual," Rodriguez said. "Everywhere we go, it's a circus, anyway."

Still, this will be different.

After being traded to New York just before spring training, Rodriguez talked about his time in Texas and said in the same ESPN Magazine interview that he "would have never gone to Texas if they had told me, `Alex, it's going to be you and 24 kids.' " Not even for the $252 million contract he signed.

Rodriguez tried to facilitate an offseason deal to Boston by agreeing to take a pay cut. The players' union refused, and after two months of talks that ended just before Christmas, A-Rod was still a Ranger.

On the day he accepted his MVP award in New York, Rodriguez met for nearly five hours with owner Tom Hicks, general manager John Hart, and manager Buck Showalter. He emerged as the Rangers' captain.

Two weeks later, Rodriguez was back in New York being introduced as the latest All-Star in the Yankees' lineup.

"I guess it's going to be like going everywhere else -- it's going to be noisy," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They were teased more than anybody else because he was going to Boston, then he was back there, then he went to the Yankees."

When Rodriguez first went back to Seattle after signing with the Rangers, he was showered with fake dollar bills and loudly booed.

In Texas, Rodriguez missed just one game. His numbers were obviously outstanding.

"The one thing I'm most proud of is that I played the very best baseball of my career in those three years," Rodriguez said. "I took my game personally to a whole other level, and hopefully that's what they remember me for."

But they most likely won't forget what he's said since leaving. He called his time in Texas special, but said being a Yankee is something he wouldn't trade for anything.

"I grew a lot as a person and a player [in Texas], but wearing the pinstripes now is something that I cherish very much," Rodriguez said.

"The fans were incredible to me in Texas, but it's hard to embrace anyone when you're not winning. We all shared those frustrations."

While A-Rod returns to Texas, Alfonso Soriano -- the All-Star second baseman the Yankees sent south in the deal -- also plays against his former team for the first time.

"I have only good memories," Soriano said. "I had a great three years with the Yankees. The only bad moment I had is when I heard the trade."

But one factor has made it easier for Soriano.

"They traded me for the best player in the league," he said.

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