It has been so long since Derek Jeter played a game for the Yankees that his presence at his locker Saturday created the eerie sensation that Old-Timers' Day had arrived 24 hours ahead of schedule.
Not so, of course. Though he turns 39 on Wednesday and has spent the better part of the last eight months in Florida, Jeter is not yet among the retired Yankees greats. He is, in fact, hopeful that his twice-fractured left ankle is sufficiently healed for him to begin running -- which he believes is the "last step'' toward playing baseball again -- "in the next couple of days.''
"But that's an assumption," he said. "So write down 'assumption.' Don't want to get in trouble."
Jeter, who took batting practice Saturday, is aware that virtually every move in his ongoing rehabilitation has been frantically followed, that nothing about his return is imminent until he returns, and that he is as tired of the situation as anyone.
"Boring?" he said of his physical restoration. "No. If I say it's boring, then they'll just think of something else for me to do.
"It's tedious. It's not fun. But I wouldn't say boring. It's a long process. You know, I've been doing this pretty much since November? December? I'm over it now. It's too long. The process is too long."
He flew to the Bronx from the team's Tampa spring training base for the day "to break up" his rehab routine "and to be with the team."
Manager Joe Girardi called Jeter's appearance "important," not only for the symbolic nature of having the team captain around "but I also think it's important for Derek . . . Sometimes when you get stuck in Tampa for a while, you seem like you're so far away."
In 18 previous major-league seasons, Jeter was on the disabled list only four previous times, and in three of those cases, they were short stays. Jeter has missed all 74 of this season's games, and the only absence close to that was being out for 36 in 2003 with a dislocated shoulder.
"That was nothing compared to this," Jeter said. "At the time, it was six weeks I couldn't play. It seemed like forever but . . . It's frustrating. I've been fortunate -- you gotta look at it that way -- I've been fortunate to play this long and really only have those two things. But it's difficult because I enjoy playing. I enjoy playing every day. I enjoy being here.
"Both of those cases I wasn't here. I was stuck in Tampa. It's an odd feeling. It's something I don't like. I live there but I don't like to be there during the season."
Jeter took ground balls before Saturday's game, and Yankees infield coach Mick Kelleher said he was "moving the best I've seen him since, really, last year."
Still, how things will progress from here, Jeter said, "I don't know. I just find out when I get there, but everything is moving in the right direction."
Toward eventual un-retirement.