Derek Jeter smiled, joked and laughed Thursday in his first Bronx appearance since breaking his left ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS. But when discussing his eventual return, which is estimated for after the All-Star break in mid-July, the Yankees' captain took on a more serious tone.
Jeter refused to concede any possible deterioration in his ability despite what will be the longest absence of his career -- and the fact he will turn 39 in June. His answer was the same no matter how many times he was asked, and the shortstop was asked repeatedly.
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"No doubt,'' Jeter said. "When you have doubt, that's when you're in trouble. I've been told this bone will heal, and when it heals, I'll be ready to go. It's frustrating that I can't magically make it heal sooner than it's taking, but there's no doubt. I have no doubt I'll be back.''
Because this latest setback is a new fracture of the ankle -- same bone, Jeter said -- it does raise some concern over the stability in that joint. Jeter acknowledged as much in talking about the state of his rehab, which also involves therapy to help the healing process in a complicated spot.
"They're doing different things,'' Jeter said. "It's a tough area because not a lot of blood flow goes to that particular bone, so we're doing some things to try to stimulate the bone growth. But it's tough. The only thing you can really do is wait.
"I've been told that if this happens, sometimes it takes longer with some people than others. But I'm doing everything possible that I can to make sure this heals very quickly.''
He is reluctantly wearing a walking boot, which Jeter chose not to do for the short trip from the clubhouse door to the interview room. That irritated the small army of photographers, who complained to him about ruining their shot, and it seemed to please Jeter.
"I'm sure you can do something to that picture, too,'' the grinning Jeter said, a reference to the photoshopping he's been subject to over the years.
As for the boot, he planned to strap his foot back into it after answering questions for 20 minutes.
"I don't want to wear the boot, I don't think I have to wear it, but I follow directions,'' Jeter said. "I still work out everything else, just not this ankle. Right now, there's not very much I can do.''
Jeter also couldn't provide an exact date when this new fracture may have occurred. He said it was possible it happened immediately before he was scratched from a game in Clearwater, Fla., March 19. Jeter never seemed the same from that point, failing to show much improvement after a cortisone shot and the shutdown period that followed.
For Jeter, this news conference was just as painful. He despises talking about injuries, and after these most recent delays, he's out of the prediction business. Jeter was bothered by not making it back for Opening Day, and he's not issuing any more promises he can't keep.
"I'm not giving a timeline,'' he said. "The last timeline I set, I didn't make, so I don't want to disappoint myself or anyone else. Whenever it heals, I'll be back. I guess that's the best way to put it.''
Does that mean he'll be more cautious this time around?
"I really don't know what happened,'' Jeter said. "I don't think I pushed too hard. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. I don't know. But as soon as they tell me I can go out there, I'll go out there and try to get back as soon as possible. As soon as I can physically play, I'll play. That's the best way to put it.''