David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
TAMPA, Fla. - The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour kicked off Saturday with what was supposed to be the captain's last game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Instead, the paying customers stood through a thunderstorm to see a video montage that showed Jeter's development from skinny teenage prospect to World Series champion. Then Jeter himself showed up to accept the key to the city before dodging raindrops on his retreat back to the dugout.
Minutes later, the game was canceled.
As ceremonies go, this probably won't make Jeter's Yankeeography. And it's not as if the shortstop was all choked up about leaving a place that used to be known as Legends Field when he first arrived in 1996 -- the same year the stadium opened.
"It was pouring out,'' Jeter said.
Maybe he's saving the emotional goodbyes for the regular season, along with whatever else is left in his tank, because the Yankees are going to need more than the Jeter they saw during spring training.
Staying healthy was critical, and by all accounts, Jeter is physically fine heading into Tuesday night's opener against the Astros. But let's be honest: the .137 batting average is a smidge unsettling, and we're expecting a higher gear when the lights go on at Minute Maid Park.
A plausible explanation would be that Jeter was being more cautious than usual after what he's already been through. That approach is not so different from the one used by most veterans.
Grapefruit League games don't count. There's a reason Jacoby Ellsbury didn't risk his balky right calf after March 14 and Jeter was better off holding back to some degree, if that indeed was his strategy to protect himself.
"I feel good,'' Jeter said. "That's the most important thing. Spring training is a progression, both physically and being game-ready. I'm where I want to be right now.''
When Joe Girardi unveiled his Opening Day lineup for the first time Saturday, Jeter was where he expected to be -- in the No. 2 spot, behind Ellsbury. Brett Gardner, the Yankees' leadoff man for 132 games last season, was hitting seventh.
That may be Girardi's plan going in, but he said he has to evaluate Jeter on a daily basis when it comes to figuring out what he's capable of doing -- and how often.
When assembling the 2014 team, the Yankees must have had a number of games in mind for Jeter when they chose to sign Brendan Ryan to a two-year, $5-million deal. Plus, with an everyday DH in Alfonso Soriano already on the roster, the Yankees chose to get Carlos Beltran -- another DH candidate -- to play rightfield rather than a younger, more regular option such as Shin-Soo Choo.
Those DH options will relegate Jeter to the bench when he doesn't play shortstop, and Girardi says he doesn't have a blueprint for him to start the season.
"I've said all along -- and I'm going to stick to it -- that he'll be the one that determines how many games he plays at short,'' Girardi said. "How he's moving, how he's responding, how he feels every day. The discussions that we have.
"I don't want to put a number on it because it might end up being a limitation. Or I could be completely off. To me, it's more how he's doing.''
And right now, like Girardi, we'd only be guessing what Jeter can deliver. The only sure things: This will be his final season and he is scheduled for six months of gift-getting and glad-handing.
The receiving line begins this week in Houston, where Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte are penciled in to honor their old pal. There's a roof, so the ceremony should last longer than five minutes; pouring rain will not be an issue.
Beyond that, Jeter didn't want to get too far ahead with the farewell tour. "I don't know what's going to happen,'' he said. "I just can't predict the future.''
But with spring training now over, so is the sentimentality. The Yankees have to win games, and Jeter -- after a shaky six weeks -- has to show he can help them do that from the jump.
It's very possible that he can. But if Jeter gets off to a slow start and the Yankees have trouble with a treacherous April, Girardi will face some tough decisions.
A little rain may have spoiled Saturday's goodbye, but there are worse things that can happen during Jeter's farewell tour. Everyone would rather have it be a memorable experience than one he'd like to forget.