Jeter to command spotlight at his final All-Star Game
Shortstop, who is the leadoff man for AL, has always enjoyed Midsummer Classic
MINNEAPOLIS -- At his first All-Star Game in 1998, Derek Jeter remembers being awed by the prospect of sharing a clubhouse with Cal Ripken Jr., looking across the room and trying to absorb every movement of a player whom he had grown up admiring and respecting.
"You're afraid to say anything; I mean, it's Cal Ripken," Jeter said. "Even though I'd played against him, I hadn't really had a chance to talk to him. There are a lot of stories like that when you come to your first one. That's why I enjoy watching guys experience it for the first time."
Just as Jeter rallied the courage to share a conversation with Ripken that day in Denver, there will inevitably be similar moments for the top players in both leagues on Tuesday. The All-Star Game at Target Field (watch on FOX) will provide a terrific chance to exchange a few words before saluting the retiring Yankees captain.
"I hope no one is scared to say anything," Jeter said. "I try to be as personable as possible and approach as many people as I can."
This Midsummer Classic, marking Jeter's 14th All-Star selection and his ninth fan-elected start, figures to be different than those that preceded it. Jeter will be in the spotlight from the first pitch on, with Red Sox manager John Farrell slotting Jeter to lead off for the American League.
"It's a rare and unique opportunity," Farrell said. "At the same time, we are able to celebrate a player who is not only a champion, but a guy that sets the bar that I think all players should aspire to."
Farrell has already given some thought to how he will give Jeter a moment in the spotlight; there is a lot to live up to, considering how Mariano Rivera's final All-Star Game entrance was orchestrated last year. Farrell has hinted that he may replace Jeter in the middle of a defensive inning so the fans can acknowledge him.
"I don't know what tomorrow is going to be like," Jeter said. "Coming here, playing in the All Star Game, you're trying to win for your league; someone in this room is going to benefit. But I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring."
The MVP of the 2000 All-Star Game at Turner Field, his first starting assignment, Jeter already has an impressive collection of memories. The 2008 sendoff to Yankee Stadium was one of his favorites, but it was a moment at Fenway Park in 1999 that tops Jeter's list.
"All the great players were on the field. I got a tap on my shoulder and it was Hank Aaron," Jeter said. "He said he was looking for me because he wanted to meet me. I was like, 'You want to meet me?' That's something that stands out. It's one of the best moments I've had on a baseball field."
Jeter will get to reunite up the middle with his former double-play partner in New York, Robinson Cano, who said that Jeter deserves this sendoff.
"He deserves it. He's a Hall of Famer, 3,000 hits, so who else can get the attention?" Cano said. "He deserves it. I'm happy for him and everything he has done in his career, because everybody knows what kind of man he is."
A's third baseman Josh Donaldson said that it would be surreal to look to his left and play alongside Jeter.
"It's going to be awesome," he said. "I really think it's just going to be one of those times where you just try to keep your emotions in check. For myself, it was nothing that I could have ever dreamed of as a kid, to be able to play next to Derek Jeter. You look at him as this next-level kind of guy."
Donaldson recalled his first interaction with Jeter; playing in a 2012 game at Yankee Stadium, Donaldson doubled and was greeted by Jeter at second base.
"He's like, 'Hey, nice swing, kid,'" Donaldson said. I was like, 'Thanks, Mr. Jeter.' I saw him kind of chuckle."
National League starting pitcher Adam Wainwright laughed when someone asked if, considering the stage, he might consider grooving a fastball down the middle to Jeter. Wainwright said that he would consider it an honor to go up against Jeter.
"I have been in the big leagues for nine years. I've never faced him," Wainwright said. "I'm very excited about it, just to say I faced the best. And he is undoubtedly one of the best to ever play his position, one of the greatest Yankees of all time."
The idea of facing the best is one that Jeter could agree with; he said that one of his favorite parts about playing in All-Star Games is testing skills against the elite, noting that he has played against some of the best in history over his two decades.
"I've always enjoyed All-Star Games," Jeter said. "This is a game that I truly have always looked forward to. I've appreciated the time that I've had here. It's kind of difficult to say I'll try to enjoy it more because I don't know how much more I can enjoy it."
As for the moment in the bottom of the first inning on Tuesday, when Jeter will dig in against Wainwright, a barrage of flashbulbs and a likely standing ovation serving as the backdrop?
"I'll probably savor it for a minute, and then try to get a hit," Jeter said. "That's what I always do."