NEW YORK — The first Madonna reference came about 10 minutes in.

Alex Rodriguez didn't snarl or duck away. He answered with the same relaxed expression and casual tone he used to describe the honor of playing in the final All-Star game at Yankee Stadium.

His personal life has been splashed across the local tabloids in recent weeks, but Rodriguez insisted he doesn't resent such intrusions, that he has learned to embrace "the gift and the curse" of sports stardom.

"You have to take the good with the bad and not take yourself too seriously," he explained later. "I think that's the one thing that over the first four or five years (in New York), I kept knocking myself over the head, and trying to re-explain myself.

"If this gentleman asked me that question, I probably would've been here for three or four hours trying to explain my personal life — and kind of made an ass out of myself, really."

Rodriguez appeared determined to not make a, um, fool of himself Monday when the All-Stars met the media, each seated at podiums scattered across a hotel ballroom. Nobody drew as many reporters and cameras as the Yankees third baseman, who had about two dozen people pressed around him for the entire 50-minute session.

Perfect white teeth glistening in the TV lights, Rodriguez joked with writers and seemed to have a well-prepared answer for anything tossed his way. As it turned out, he fielded only that one Madonna mention, and it was in the context of a general question about handling distractions.

"Look, everyone has distractions," Rodriguez replied. "Everyone goes through personal issues. Mine are on the front page of the papers. I'm fine with it. ... You have to deal with that, challenging times."

There were no pointed queries about his wife, Cynthia, accusing him of infidelity in filing for divorce last week. Nothing about his rumored relationship with the pop star.

Most of the questions were about, well, baseball. Although "Inside Edition" did have a camera in the scrum, generally the touchiest topic Rodriguez had to address was sharing the All-Star infield with two members of the rival Red Sox.

By the way, when listing what's on his iPod, Rodriguez didn't include Madonna — or, for that matter, Jay-Z, with whom he was hosting a party Monday night (his answer included the eclectic mix of Frank Sinatra, 50 Cent, Sting and Tom Petty).

YANKEES' DAMON HAS HITTING SESSION DELAYED: Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon had his first hitting off a tee session pushed back at least a couple of days because of soreness in his injured left shoulder.

Damon sprained the shoulder when he ran into the left-field fence while attempting to catch a ball on July 4.

"Had a little tough time sleeping last night," Damon said after undergoing treatment Monday at the Yankees' minor league complex. "Today it felt a little sore. We're just going to hold back the swinging at least two more days. Hopefully it won't be too long of a time."

Damon, who is hitting .319, is on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

BONDS' REP: 'PROSPECTS LOOK BLEAK': The agent for Barry Bonds says there's little chance the slugger will play this year.

Agent Jeff Borris said reports about the New York Mets, Arizona and Boston showing interest in the indicted home-run king are not true.

Borris told The Associated Press that "prospects look bleak" for the 43-year-old outfielder.<