This isn’t Derek Jeter‘s first rodeo. However, the spring and summer and hopefully fall of 2014 will indeed be his last in pinstripes. He’s heard the whispers before. A slump here and there over a 20-year career, and the doubters become louder with each passing season. Coming off of a nightmarish 2013 season, one in which the Yankees’ Captain was limited to only 17 games, combined with a .132 batting average this spring, and eyebrows are beginning to raise.
Pundits are openly questioning whether Jeter should even remain in his customary #2 slot in the Yankees’ lineup, or if manager Joe Girardi will have the intestinal fortitude to tell the prideful leader of this franchise that it’s time to step aside, move down the order, and allow Brett Gardner to hit behind the other half of the Bombers’ revamped outfield duo in Jacoby Ellsbury. Jeter continues to insist the slow spring hasn’t bothered him, and it won’t anytime soon:
I haven’t worried about that for a while…I haven’t worried since I got here.
Jeter says his surgically-repaired ankle doesn’t bother him, and isn’t even on his mind. Compared to last season, he’s made a complete 180-degree turnaround:
If you’re comparing the two years, it’s completely different…Just walking around last year was a struggle. This year, I haven’t thought about it at all. It hasn’t even crossed my mind since I’ve been down here…I really don’t think about it anymore. I don’t look at is as a weight off my mind. Last year was just some extreme circumstances and it was the first time I ever had to deal with something like that, so now I’m back to where I can just go out and play.
Jeter knows after two decades under the white-hot New York City spotlight, that saying and believing you are healthy isn’t enough. If a poor spring carries over into a slow start to the regular season, Jeter knows he’s going to hear it from the Yankees’ faithful, retirement tour or not. Yankees’ hitting coach Kevin Long believes Jeter is progressing nicely, and will be fine when the opening bell rings for the start of the season:
He’s getting comfortable with his timing, staying inside the ball and elevating some balls…He’s using his legs and doing all the things he’s used to doing. Every spring training he goes through stretches when he doesn’t hit the ball in the air…The good thing is his swing isn’t hindered by anything right now. He looks normal to me, and that was never the case last year.
Jeter said each spring training is different, and he gets ready at different points each season. The 39-year-old shortstop and 5-time World Series champion isn’t worried just yet. Jeter added:
Some springs take longer than others to get going…I don’t try to do anything new or different. There have been springs that have gone like this and some have gone better, but there’s no correlation between last year and this year. I could be having the same spring now if I stayed healthy last year.
Jeter is just trying to stay focused on his task at hand, which is helping lead the Yankees to another postseason. The last thing he wants to do in his final campaign is struggle as an individual, which in turn hurts the team and could prevent them from making the postseason.