Let’s not say that Derek Jeter’s final Grapefruit League debut failed to generate much buzz here at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Let’s go with this idea: Yankees fans want to save their emotional bouquets for further down the road. Under cloudy skies, through chilly 60-degree weather (sorry, New Yorkers) and in front of enough empty seats to fill The Theater at Madison Square Garden, Jeter received a polite standing ovation as he kicked off his retirement/rehabilitation tour at the Yankees’ Grapefruit League home opener. Starting at shortstop and hitting second, he showed off his improved left ankle as he went hitless in two at-bats and tagged out Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison trying to steal second base in the fifth inning. Despite the lack of fanfare, Jeter’s day — his whole 2014 adventure, really — is more than just a nostalgia ride. It’s vital to the Yankees’ hopes. It’s exactly how The Captain wants it. “I’ve always been an important part of the team,” Jeter said, after the Yankees dropped an 8-2 decision to the Pirates. “I’ve never gone into the season thinking I wasn’t important. I understand that my job is important. If I ever felt that I wasn’t important, then I would have left a long time ago.” “I think it’s important that we’re able to run him out there on a pretty consistent basis, and that he is Derek,” Joe Girardi echoed. “He splits up left-handers. He just gives more of a continuity to our lineup, and to our club.” Jeter surely would like to acquire a neuralyzer from the “Men in Black” movies and clean everyone’s memory — including his own — of the 2013 season. The worst part may not even have been that he missed 145 games last year. It could be that he looked so awful, so uncomfortable and fragile, in the 17 games he actually played amidst four trips to the disabled list. The Yankees’ inability to overcome his absence, as well as those of his other injured teammates, just added to the nightmare. The Yankees’ $500 million-plus offseason spending spree gave them a better club, undisputedly, yet not such an improved roster they can coast with another subpar showing from their shortstops. And Plan B for Jeter, if the ankle doesn’t hold up or if he simply can’t perform at a high level anymore as he approaches 40, underwhelms us. Brendan Ryan ideally serves as Jeter’s late-inning replacement, and Eduardo Nunez remains a fragile, frustrating talent who might be needed at third base, anyway.
Yankees can’t afford to have Jeter end career with a whimper
New York Post | Feb 28