Jeter fever strikes fans
Tampa, Fla. — Derek Jeter pulled into the parking lot of the New York Yankees' minor league complex on Thursday, walked out of his gray Mercedes-Benz and waved a hand holding a bottle of mineral water as about 50 fans applauded his mere arrival.
After taking batting practice in an indoor cage and throwing on a field, he started to drive out of the parking lot about 90 minutes later - the car cleaned and polished, its silver hub caps shining. He stopped and rolled down the driver's side window to sign photographs, baseballs and other memorabilia for the first dozen people or so who had waited in line.
Already the most adored player on the baseball team with the highest profile, the New York Yankees captain figures to be the recipient of an ever-heightened level of adulation during the next 7 1/2 months as he circumnavigates the major leagues in a farewell tour that could be called Pinstriped Parting 2 following Mariano Rivera's emotional exit last year.
Asked whether he felt good about the decision he announced Wednesday, Jeter responded: "I do."
But he didn't want to get into an extended discussion. New York opens its big league spring training camp today, and position players report next week, when Jeter is likely to hold a news conference to discuss his decision.
"I'll address it when we get over there the first day of spring. It's easier that way," he said.
Jeter took the Yankees by surprise with his Wednesday morning telephone call to owner Hal Steinbrenner, and his Facebook announcement later in the day jolted fans accustomed for nearly two decades to the constants of his hot hitting and cool demeanor. Speculation began about a suitable replacement: Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera and J.J. Hardy are among the players eligible for free agency after the season.
"I wish he'd have quit in '05," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said, laughing, remembering Jeter's many performances against his Boston Red Sox. "If you're a baseball fan, he is the walking example of what's good in baseball. You respect him so much, and yet you want him to have as little to do with the outcome of the game if you're his opponent - and that's probably the biggest compliment you can give him. He's going to find a way to beat you whether it's on the bases, on defense or at the plate.
"And again, because I was in that division, I saw it too much," Francona went on. "He ranks right up there with the most respected players. I'm glad he's walking away on his own terms. We'll probably get to see him seven, eight times. I hope he goes 0-for-28 and we give him a nice plaque or something, but I don't see that really happening."
By Wednesday night the Yankees had sent out an email with links to Jeter gear and ticket information. They announced Thursday that general individual ticket sales will start Feb. 24 - up from March 5 last year.
Stubhub's lowest price for the Yankees' regular-season home finale on Sept. 25 was $307.50 for a single upper-deck seat and its highest was a fanciful $66,432.90 for a pair in the bleachers. Asking amounts for game No. 162 at Boston three days later were similarly inflated.
Mariano Rivera's farewell season turned into a marketing opportunity, Already Steiner Sports is selling Jeter game-used equipment that includes jerseys ($15,000 and up), cleats ($1,049.99 and up), batting gloves ($599.99 and up) and even a sock ($525).
"This was all sudden. We'll sit with Derek and Casey and his people and come up with a plan," Yankees President Randy Levine said, referring to Jeter's agent, Casey Close.
Jeter had no desire to switch positions or change teams. He wanted to be a member of the Yankees and a shortstop, and nothing else.
He was limited to 17 games last season after breaking an ankle in the 2012 playoffs, and he turns 40 in June. He could join Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith as the only one-position players with 2,500 or more major league games, according to STATS.
If he is able to regain his place on a regular basis, he would be a superannuated shortstop. Only Honus Wagner (1914, "15), Luke Appling ('47, "49) and Omar Vizquel (2007) have appeared in 100 or more games at the position in the year they turned 40 or later.
"With the captain, it's an experience I'm going to tell all my kids and the people that I know," Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli said, "because I think he's the greatest player I've ever seen in my life."
• Masahiro Tanaka also was at the complex, wearing a Yankees T-shirt and shorts, and threw a bullpen session of about two dozen pitches. Jeter joked about having to learn more Japanese to communicate with Tanaka. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Tanaka threw two- and four-seam fastballs, splitters and sliders. "It was good. He's still trying to catch up I think with the time change and everything. Just trying to ease him into things," he said. "We're going to go slow with it." ... The Yankees will play exhibition games against the Miami Marlins in Panama City on March 15-16 to honor Rivera, the first visit of Major League Baseball to the Central American nation since 1947.
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