NEW YORK (Reuters) - Alex Rodriguez, vowing to continue playing for the New York Yankees while he appeals his doping suspension, said he felt like he was "fighting for his life."
Describing the last seven months as a "nightmare," Rodriguez told a packed news conference in Chicago on Monday that he was prepared to go the distance to clear his name after being given a 211-game ban for alleged drug offences.
"I'm fighting for my life," he said. "I have to defend myself. If I don't, no-one else will."
Rodriguez was among 13 players suspended by Major League Baseball for their alleged links with a Florida clinic accused of supplying players with performance-enhancing drugs.
The other 12 players all accepted 50-game bans, which is about eight weeks in MLB, but Rodriguez appealed after he was given a much stiffer penalty, suspended until the end of the 2014 season.
The 38-year-old has not played this season because of injury but is allowed to play until his appeal, which has yet to be scheduled.
On the same day the penalty was announced, the third baseman was preparing to rejoin the Yankees against the Chicago White Sox.
Before the game, he addressed reporters, declining to talk about the specific allegations again him, talking instead about his joy at playing after being sidelined following hip surgery.
"I am thrilled and humbled to have the opportunity to put on this uniform again and to play Major League Baseball again," he said.
"I feel like I was 18 years old, back in Fenway Park back in 1994, when I went in to face the Red Sox for the very first time.
"It's been 20 years, and I'm just very excited to go out there and play baseball."
Rodriguez was twice asked whether he had used performance enhancing drugs but did not say, replying instead that the case was still ongoing.
"We'll have a forum to discuss all of that, and we'll talk about it then," he said.
"It's been the toughest fight of my life, and not by any means am I out of the woods," he added.
"This is probably just 'phase two' probably starting. It's not going to get any easier. It's probably going to get hard, but I am humbled and I am thankful for the support."
(Reporting by Julian Linden in New York; Editing by Ian Ransom)