TAMPA, Fla. — On the same day Alex Rodriguez showed up as a guest instructor at Steinbrenner Field, Derek Jeter did his part to mentor some of the younger Yankees.
Just a bit more behind the scenes.
Jeter took about 20 of the club’s prospects to dinner Tuesday night at a restaurant in Tampa, the second straight year the future Hall of Famer has done so as part of the “Captain’s Camp.”
Captain’s Camp, a program for select prospects with the purpose of developing leadership skills in the organization, was instituted three years ago by Gary Denbo, a friend and mentor of Jeter’s who is the Yankees’ vice president of player development. Denbo, Jeter’s first manager in the minors in 1992, asks former and current players to speak to the prospects, with Jeter, A-Rod, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda and Alfonso Soriano among the many who have contributed.
About 20 prospects attended the dinner, at which Jeter answered questions and told stories, with no topic off limits. Not surprisingly, the evening played to rave reviews.
“You could definitely see it was a different feel when he walked in the room,” said lefthander Justus Sheffield, 20. “I caught myself just smirking and staring. It was awesome. Answered questions, anything we wanted to ask.”
Sheffield, before the night was over, posted a picture on Twitter with the caption, “So this just happened.”
“First time I met Derek, I was super-excited,” Sheffield said Wednesday morning, smiling. “I had to post a picture.”
James Kaprielian, a 22-year-old righthander many consider the top pitching prospect in the organization, attended last year’s dinner and also posted an online picture of Tuesday’s gathering.
“He said, ‘Ask me anything, on or off the field, and I’m going to give the best answer I can and see if I can help,’ ” Kaprielian said. “Anytime you get somebody who’s had the success like Derek to come and be honest and up front . . . for us young guys, you looked around the room, all those guys were eyes wide open, ears wide open. It was pretty special for all of us to be there.”
Sheffield, part of the prospect haul from the Indians in the Andrew Miller deal last year, said handling failure was among the topics covered.
“One of the questions asked was about his 0-for-32,’’ Sheffield said, alluding to a 2004 slump during which Jeter famously was booed at the Stadium. “He said he would just think about the success he had in the past and just stay positive. I took a lot from that because this is a game of failure. It was good. Just being able to hear from Derek Jeter was unreal.”
Although Sheffield, a native of Tennessee, grew up a Red Sox fan, he long admired Jeter.
“I loved watching Derek, just the way he played the game,” Sheffield said. “I’ve never seen that guy take a day off. He’s the best we’re ever going to see in our generation.”
Joe Girardi called the night a “huge benefit” for the prospects.
“Derek obviously knows the Yankee way, and what he went through to be successful here, his struggles as a minor-league player and how each year he got better and then ended up being Rookie of the Year and doing so many great things here,” Girardi said. “I just think sometimes it’s good to get away from the ballpark and have discussions with the younger players on what it took.”
Kaprielian said having this kind of experience isn’t something he takes for granted.
“At the end of the day, it’s a special organization to be a part of,” Kaprielian said. “I try to take a second every day to try and kick back, look around and appreciate that I’m actually here. Anytime you get to be in that situation, you really realize how fortunate we are and the fact they’re able to pull somebody like Derek, who’s got his busy lifestyle, to come back and try to help us.”