MINNEAPOLIS — Derek Jeter was an elite shortstop winning World Series championships not long after many of baseball’s current greats were born.
With the captain of the New York Yankees set to retire after the season, Jeter’s 14th All-Star game will be his last. His first one as a starter in 2000 was special, as was the 2008 version at Yankee Stadium. So don’t expect him to declare his final appearance his favorite, or an experience he’ll find himself savoring any more than usual.
“This is a game that I’ve truly always looked forward to. I’ve appreciate the time that I’ve had here. So it’s kind of difficult to say that I’ll try to enjoy it more,” Jeter said on Monday amid a predictably large crowd of cameras and reporters during the media interview session for the American League players.
Though the Yankees have been hovering around the .500 mark, Jeter has said many times he’s only focused on chasing another championship, not gathering farewell gifts or reflecting nostalgically on his exceptional career. That part has been left up to everyone else around the game.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price said Jeter’s final presence was what excited him the most about this year’s event.
“I know the All-Star game isn’t about a certain player or a certain team, but I feel like it is. This is about Derek Jeter. And the National League guys, they understand that as well,” Price said.
For Minnesota Twins closer Glen Perkins, Jeter has been one of those “guys you can tell your grandkids about” pitching to.
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, who will start the All-Star game for the National League on Tuesday night at Target Field, will throw his first pitch to Jeter when the 40-year-old steps to the plate as the AL leadoff man.
“I’m very excited about it, just to say I faced the best,” Wainwright said. “And he is undoubtedly one of the best to ever play his position.”
To Jeter’s left will be second baseman Robinson Cano, who left the Yankees in the offseason and signed with the Seattle Mariners.
“I’m really happy that I’ll be able to be a part of his final All-Star game and be on the same team. It’s pretty amazing,” Cano said. “He’s one of the biggest parts of my career. He was one of those guys when I first came up who was there on and off the field.”
To Jeter’s right will be third baseman Josh Donaldson, who recalled a double he hit for the Oakland Athletics in his first time playing against Jeter and the Yankees in 2012.
“He was like, `Hey, good swing, kid,”’ Donaldson said. “I was like, `Thanks, Mr. Jeter.’ ”
Jeter was that wide-eyed youngster in 1998 when he appeared in his first All-Star game, in Denver.
“Cal was there and I was afraid to say anything, because it’s Cal Ripken,” Jeter said. “Even though I’d played against him, I barely had a chance to talk to him.”
Then there was 1999, in Boston.
“They had all the great players come on the field. I got a tap on my shoulder, and it was Hank Aaron, and he said he was looking for me because he wanted to meet me. He wanted to meet me. That’s something that stands out. That’s one of the best moments I’ve had on the baseball field,” Jeter said.
That kind of humility, instilled in him by his parents as he grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, has compelled Jeter to strike up such conversations with his peers around the game. He spoke Monday about being happy for the players getting their first taste this week of the All-Star experience, like Yankees reliever Dellin Betances.
“You try to carry yourself the right way. I’ve always tried to do that,” Jeter said. “Then again, at the same time, I am who I am. I don’t try to be any different. If people respect you for the way that you carry yourself, it means a lot to me and it means a lot to my family. It makes you feel good.”