Jeter's first hit a single off Belcher
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On the same premise that says a thousand-mile journey begins with the first step, the march to 3,000 hits begins with a smash between third and shortstop in Seattle's Kingdome.
That is the way it worked for Derek Jeter, anyway. On May 30, 1995, one day after he made his major-league debut as an emergency call-up for injured Yankees shortstop Tony Fernandez, Jeter drilled a ground single to left for the first of his 3,000 hits.
He was batting ninth that night and led off the fifth inning with that base hit off a delivery that Mariners pitcher Tim Belcher years later said was a hanging splitter. Jeter advanced to second on a groundout by Wade Boggs, held there on a walk to Paul O'Neill and came home on a double by Jim Leyritz. All of it happened before only 10,709 in Seattle, testifying to the fact that it didn't seem like a big deal at the time.
It was big enough, though, to inspire someone to call for the baseball, which is typical when a player picks up his first hit. The ball was taken out of play and inscribed with the date. Jeter's parents still have that memento.
Jeter also led off the seventh with a single, the last pitch thrown that night by Belcher. He was replaced by Ron Villone, a native of Englewood, N.J., who would become Jeter's teammate in 2006 and 2007. Villone couldn't keep the kid from scoring. Jeter went to second on Luis Polonia's sacrifice bunt, took third on Boggs' groundout and came home on O'Neill's single.
It was as memorable a night as a 20-year-old can have. It just wasn't perfect. In the bottom of the eighth, he could not quite make a spectacular play on a ground ball by Mike Blowers. He did make a good diving stop, but his throw was wide of first baseman Don Mattingly. The infield hit set up the Mariners' five-run rally toward a 7-3 win (winning pitcher, Jeff Nelson).
"I just rushed it,'' Jeter told reporters after the game. "I had enough time to make a good throw and didn't do it. For some reason, I tried to be quicker than I had to be.''
His return to the minor leagues 11 days later had nothing to do with that play. It was because Fernandez was healthy again. But by Opening Day the next year, Fernandez had been supplanted and Jeter was installed as the starting shortstop. He has remained there ever since, getting hit after hit.