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Jeter begins 21st season in pinstripes

Derek Jeter tries to turn a double play

Derek Jeter tries to turn a double play as Kenny Lofton slides in during spring training in 1996. Credit: Newsday file photo

TAMPA, Fla. -- The time, Derek Jeter said, has flown by.

"Does it feel like it? No, it's gone pretty quickly," said Jeter, who was drafted by the Yankees in June 1992. "In some sense, it feels like you've been here for a long time, but you say 20 years, that's a long time. That's a real long time."

And the shortstop, who has five World Series rings and turns 38 on June 26, said his motivation is the same as always.

"To win. It's always been the same thing, it's never changed," Jeter said after hitting on the field Monday morning at the Yankees' minor-league complex. "I don't think your mind-set ever changes when it comes to that. That's the only thing The Boss cared about, I don't care if it was rookie ball. Our whole thing is to win. In my mind, that's the only thing you should play for."

No significant milestones are within reach for Jeter this season, certainly nothing compared with his chase of 3,000 hits in 2011, but he said the excitement level is the same as it always is.

"If I wasn't excited about it, I wouldn't do it," Jeter said. "Playing-wise is a little bit different than getting prepared to play. The working-out part, that gets harder and harder."

But as he often says, "It's a lot harder to get back in shape than it is to stay in shape."

Jeter had no difficulty remembering his first official day in pinstripes. When he reported to Tampa, he was an overwhelmed teenager trying to prove he was worthy of being the sixth overall pick.

"I was scared to death," Jeter said. "I signed a couple of weeks late, so when I got here, everyone had already been here. It was an uncomfortable position and then I was completely overmatched in terms of ability and playing out here. It was an uncomfortable beginning."

The days of having to prove anything on the field are long gone, although he likely took some satisfaction from the latter part of last season. After landing on the disabled list June 14 with a strained right calf while hitting .260, Jeter hit .331 the rest of the way.

"I go out there to try and get better, try to help us win," Jeter said. "But I don't ever take the field saying I have to prove something to someone."

Although Jeter doesn't follow the day-to-day happenings in the sport religiously, he couldn't help but notice the American League getting stronger this offseason, when the Angels landed Albert Pujols and the Tigers acquired Prince Fielder.

"Our league's always been tough, but yeah, I'm pretty sure they're excited over in Anaheim to have Albert and C.J. [Wilson] and I think it's kind of cool Prince is in Detroit because everyone remembers him following his dad [Cecil] around in Detroit," Jeter said. "It made two great teams even better, which is scary for the whole American League, especially for the West and Central."

As for new Boston manager Bobby Valentine, Jeter said: "I don't know Bobby well. A little bit, just from playing against him and seeing him around with ESPN when he was doing games. But he's going to bring some excitement. He brought some excitement when he was with the Mets, but there's always excitement in Boston. I guess he'll add to it."

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