Remember Alex Rodriguez’s brain-melting 2009?

The confession to using illegal performance-enhancing drugs as a Ranger from 2001 to 2003? The right hip surgery? Rejoining the Yankees in May and becoming a clutch, likeable player while leading the team to its first World Series title in nine years?

Compared to the drama that now envelops the beleaguered third baseman, 2009 looks like a high school play.

For A-Rod to actually return to the Yankees and help them accomplish a miracle run to the playoffs, he’s going to have to pull off his most amazing comeback yet. It will require the expertise of both his doctors and his lawyers. He must overcome his own physical shortcomings, Major League Baseball’s dogged efforts to suspend him and a general wariness from a fan base that seemed perfectly content with the notion that he never would play again.

Rodriguez’s posse has spread the word that he could start his minor-league rehabilitation clock as soon as next week. The Yankees aren’t signing off on such a definitive schedule, yet they, too, voice optimism about his steady progress. Suddenly, the “after the All-Star break” timeline the Yankees voiced immediately following A-Rod’s January surgery doesn’t seem like the setup for a joke.

Nevertheless, a gulf remains between feeling good at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa and contributing as a major league player. You simply don’t see a soon-to-be 38-year-old with two surgically repaired hips execute great athletic feats, which is why skepticism has surrounded A-Rod’s comeback attempt since the news of his injury first broke.