After missing all of 2014 because of his drug suspension, Rodriguez batted seventh in the lineup as New York's designated hitter Monday. He went 1-for-2 with a walk and, besides the loud ovations, was welcomed back with signs and chants during the Yankees'6-1 lossto the Blue Jays.
"Ihave to admit, it definitely felt good," said Rodriguez, who last played in a regular-season game in September 2013. "That's for sure. I have a lot of love for the city of New York, especially our fans.
"But let's make it clear -- the fans don't owe me anything. I've said all along during spring training, the part of feeling like a rookie is I have to earn their cheers and their respect."
Rodriguez, 39, called this Opening Day "probably the most special" one he has had ever experienced. His mother was in attendance.
"This is a special day for my family," Rodriguez said. "It is a special day for my mother. I'm especially happy for her. I know she had some tears probably going into the day. Moms are moms."
When Rodriguez stepped to the plate for the first time to lead off the bottom of the third inning, he received a thunderous ovation, with many of the fans standing. There was a small group of fans who gave an "A-Rod" chant. He ended up walking, becoming the Yankees' first baserunner of the game.
During the top of the first, Yankee Stadium's "Bleacher Creatures" included Rodriguez in their roll call. Normally, the fans located in right field only call out the Yankees' fielders, chanting their names until each player acknowledges the crowd, and the DH usually is not included.
After the fans chanted his name, Rodriguez tipped his cap from the top step of the dugout.
"I love our Bleacher Creatures," Rodriguez said. "I thought it was a pretty neat experience."
In the left-field stands, a group of fans had letters that spelled out "#FORG1V3," which has become a hashtag among Yankees fans on Twitter after Derek Jeter's "RE2PECT" dominated last year.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has indicated he will use Rodriguez sparingly in the field this season. Girardi said he was not surprised by the reaction to Rodriguez on Monday.
"I think we live in a forgiving society overall," Girardi said. "We live in a society that gives people second and third chances, fourth, fifth. I've seen it with some of the players when I was here early, who had a lot of chances and came back."
Rodriguez last appeared in a regular-season game on Sept. 25, 2013, during the appeal of his suspension. He only played a total of 44 games that season. The three-time MVP had not played on Opening Day since 2012.
Rodriguez's history with Yankees fans has been up and down; even when he was winning MVPs, he would hear boos when he did not come through.
Rodriguez completed spring training free of controversy and injuries. He hit enough -- .267 with three homers and four RBIs in 45 at-bats -- that Girardi singled Rodriguez out for how good he looked.
Rodriguez has three years and $61 million remaining on his contract with the Yankees. If he hits six more homers, he will tie Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time list, which could be worth another $6 million. The Yankees have vowed to fight the bonus, as they plan to argue that it is worthless because of Rodriguez's drug history.
A-Rod not taking this year for granted
Alex Rodriguez discusses playing on Opening Day for the Yankees.