It was about a decade ago when Jeter resided in a split-level house on Frances Drive in the shadows of the Northern State Parkway. He worked at BJ's Wholesale Club on Brush Hollow Road and ate many a meal at the IHOP on Jericho Turnpike.
Most popular sports stories
But had you bumped into Jeter on the street or at the mall, even the biggest Yankees fan wouldn't have noticed him.
"Every day people ask me if there's any relation," Jeter said, "but there's not."
Same name, different guy. Unlike the Yankees' shortstop since 1996, this Derek Jeter is 29 years old and makes his living as a heavy equipment engineer in Manhattan. And he doesn't even like baseball. But he admits to owning a Yankees T-shirt, because it has his name on it."Every time someone says something to me about it, they always start, 'I know you're probably tired of hearing this, but . . . ' " said Jeter, who now lives in Brooklyn. "It happens almost every day."
Call it luck, call it a curse, or maybe just a bizarre coincidence, but there are many Long Islanders who share their name with a famous sports figure.
Take Sarah Hughes of Carle Place. She says her world hasn't been the same since the day in 2002 when her namesake from Great Neck won the Olympic gold medal in ladies figure skating in Salt Lake City.
"It was just weird, because I would use my credit card somewhere and someone would hand it back and say congratulations on the gold," she said. "I once ordered something over the phone and this lady in Florida, she was like, 'You're Sarah Hughes from Long Island?' "
This Sarah Hughes is an emergency-room nurse at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, so there are always people looking at her nametag and asking for an explanation. There's no use avoiding the questions, Hughes said, so now she has a ready response.
"I just say I won the gold and I had to move on and do something else," she said.
She said she watched the Olympics and enjoyed her namesake's run to the gold medal. Her family celebrated by going to the store and buying the Wheaties box that had her name on it.
And nearly a decade later she still gets comments about her name several times a week.
Michael Jordan, 55, of Rockville Centre knows the feeling. He's always gone by Mike, but once the basketball star with the same name rose to stardom with the Chicago Bulls, winning six NBA titles in the 1990s, this Long Islander has never been the same.
He owns Jordan Lobster Farms, an Island Park seafood restaurant, and friends used to always bug him to advertise that Michael Jordan makes nightly appearances there, which surely would intrigue a few potential customers.
The Long Island Michael Jordan is not a sports fan and has never been to one of Michael Jordan's basketball games. He just happened to have been given his name a few years before the future basketball Hall of Famer was born.
"When I call people," he said, "I tell them this is the real Michael Jordan."
And Al Jackson once introduced his son to the "real" Reggie Jackson during batting practice before a Yankees-Boston Red Sox game in the late 1970s. On the field, outside the batting cage, the two Reggie Jacksons met. And they smiled at their shared identity.
"My old man says, 'Reggie Jackson, I want you to meet my son, Reggie Jackson,' and the first thing he said to me was, 'You've got a superstar's name,' " Jackson said.
This Reggie Jackson tried to make it as a player in the Mets organization, but he never advanced past Double-A. He later scouted for the Mets and coached in the minor leagues and at Hofstra. Now he's a youth baseball instructor and trainer in Hicksville.
Same, but different
Tom Coughlin, 62, of Remsenburg, said he is not much of a football fan, even though the Giants' coach has the same name. "If anything," he said, "my allegiance lies with the Jets." But he's read about how the Giants' coach is a stickler for details, requiring that his players must arrive five minutes early to a meeting. This Tom Coughlin said he uses the same attention-to-detail philosophy with the employees who work for the storage trailer and container business that he owns.
"If a job starts at 7 a.m. I want my guys sitting there at 6:30 a.m.," Coughlin said. "I'd rather pay a half-hour overtime than hear the customer complaining. That's how you keep customers."
With names like these, you tend to hear the same joke over and over, and the comedy often wears thin.
"It's a name you get a beating with, let me tell you," said Joe Torre, 71, of Sayville. "Everyone was always asking me for tickets, or, how are the Yankees doing? I say who cares. I'm a Dodgers fan from birth."
"I root for the guy," Wright said. "I think he's a class act. I would not be upset to see him on the Yankees some day."
"I used to coach my sons' Little League and kids who didn't know who I was would see the coach's name is David Wright and they would get really excited and think it's the real David Wright, the player," said Wright, who goes by "Dave," "And then they would get disappointed when they found out it was just me."
Getting into it
Mark Sanchez, 46, of Smithtown, said he'll get a lot of high-fives when he arrives at work on Monday morning after a big Jets victory. And he remembers friends calling him last season after the Jets quarterback had a bad game, saying, "Why did you throw five interceptions?"
A building contractor, Sanchez admits he used to be a "big" Giants fan. "But once the Jets drafted Mark, I kind of had to switch flags, you know what I mean?" Now he has a Sanchez Jets jersey and spends his Sundays watching the Jets on TV and rooting for himself, in a way.
Some said sharing your name with a sports figure does have its perks.
"Everyone asks if you're related," said Joe Girardi, 51, an attorney from Syosset and the namesake of the Yankees' manager, "and sometimes if I want a better table at the restaurant, I say, 'Yeah, he's my cousin.' "
John Tavares, 23, a medical dispatch operator from Mineola, isn't opposed to using his connection to the Islanders star center -- no relation, of course -- to his advantage. But the opportunity to do so hasn't quite come up.
"I don't think he's that popular yet," Tavares said. "It's not like my name is Wayne Gretzky."
Jeter, the heavy equipment engineer who used to live with his aunt in Westbury, said he has received two fan mail letters over the years. He opened them because, well, the envelopes were addressed to him.
Not exactly sure what to do with the letters, Jeter held on to them and thinks he still has them. And why not? In a way, they are perfect mementos of what it's like to be, well, Derek Jeter.
Staff writer Cody Derespina contributed to this story.