Teammates will join A-Rod at today’s press conference

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s become a near-annual February rite for the Yankees: the drug-related apology.

Jason Giambi gave an ambiguous one at Yankee Stadium on the eve of spring training in 2005.

Andy Pettitte gave an emotional and lengthy one when he arrived at spring training last year.

Now it’s Alex Rodriguez’s turn, and he figures to draw a big crowd of teammates.

A-Rod was due to appear under the tent behind the third-base stands at Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday for a news conference addressing his admission last week that he used banned drugs. The Yankees still didn’t know how many specifics of his drug use Rodriguez planned to divulge.

“I don’t think it’s necessary in my eyes that he answer every detail,” manager Joe Girardi said Monday.

While Pettitte spoke from the heart during his news conference a year ago admitting use of human growth hormone, the image-conscious Rodriguez appears to be formulating his strategy surrounded by an entourage large enough to fill a television series.

Even before Sports Illustrated reported on its Web site Feb. 7 that Rodriguez tested positive for a pair of steroids during baseball’s anonymous survey in 2003, Team A-Rod included agent Scott Boras and his staff, manager Guy Oseary, the William Morris Agency and publicist Richard Rubenstein.

He has retained James E. Sharp, a lawyer who represented Pettitte and Sammy Sosa before Congress and then-President George W. Bush in front of a federal prosecutor. Rodriguez also brought in Outside Eyes, a media strategy and crisis management company based in Newport Beach, Calif., that includes communications specialists from Republican campaigns.

While Yankees officials were in charge of Pettitte’s news conference, the team was uncertain who would run Tuesday’s session, scheduled for live television transmission by the team’s YES Network, which will provide its feed to other networks. It will be a must-see event for many, if not most, of the Yankees.

“It’s part of playing here. Everything is somewhat magnified to a certain degree being here, and just some things you’ve got to deal with,” said Pettitte, who planned to attend.

Pettitte was joined at his news conference by Yankees captain Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera — “like brothers to me” — who joined him on World Series champions. Rodriguez, a three-time MVP who is on news and gossip pages in New York as much as the sports section, figures to draw a far higher percentage of teammates.

“I don’t think it’s window dressing,” Girardi said. “I think it’s out of their hearts and their feelings for Alex and them wanting to stand behind him and help him through this situation.”

Stopping by the clubhouse to drop off gear, Mark Teixeira said he planned to go. The first-year Yankee was A-Rod’s teammate on the 2003 Texas Rangers.

“When I see him tomorrow, I’m going to give him a big hug and just tell him I’m there for him. I’m going to be a teammate and a friend if he needs one,” Teixeira said.

Girardi planned to speak with Rodriguez before the event “just to look him in the eyes and see how he’s doing.”

While Pettitte made his news conference his first public appearance after admitting his HGH use to a congressional committee, Rodriguez responded to the SI report by conducting a Feb. 9 interview with ESPN. He admitted using banned drugs while playing for Texas from 2001-03 but sidestepped saying exactly what he used, how often he used, where he obtained banned drugs, whether they were injected and whether he used them during the offseason.

Some columnists criticized ESPN for not pinning him down.

Pettitte, in contrast, went into great detail.

“It didn’t matter what lawyers said or whatever, I was going to get it all out,” he recalled Monday.

Girardi could see merits in both approaches. The stakes are higher because Rodriguez is 12th on the career home run list with 553 and trails leader Barry Bonds by 209.

“It’s going to be different, I’m sure, just because of the magnitude of who Alex is. I think the record that he’s chasing has something to do with it, too,” Girardi said. “Would he like to probably put it behind him tomorrow? Yes. But I don’t think that’s realistic.”

A cartoon of a bulked-up Rodriguez signing autographs for bulked-up kids is on this week’s cover of The New Yorker. He has been the subject of numerous jokes on late-night television.

He is the most prominent player to admit having used performance-enhancing substances.

“A lot of people think that, you know, this is going to tear the team apart,” Teixeira said. “I think it’s going to bring the team together.”

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