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Derek Jeter takes focus off retirement and on upcoming season

Yankees' Derek Jeter speaks during a press conference

Yankees' Derek Jeter speaks during a press conference at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa on the morning of Feb. 19, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. -- At about the 12-minute mark of his 27-minute news conference Wednesday, Derek Jeter interrupted himself to address Joe Girardi, and then the entire team.

"Hey Joe, if these guys have to go work," Jeter said, "don't feel as though you are forced to be here."

Nobody moved and Girardi simply smiled back.

"I thought it was vintage Derek," Girardi said afterward. "Where the focus should be. He's not thinking about retirement. He's thinking about winning another championship. And he told us all to go back to work."

CC Sabathia was sitting a few rows behind Girardi in the giant indoor pavilion on the Steinbrenner Field grounds that was packed with reporters, photographers, Yankees' team brass and, of course, the team.

"I expected exactly what I heard," Sabathia said two hours later as he left the stadium. "Him not trying to make it all about him, when it is. But like I said, it was just classic Jeet. And to hear that he's back healthy and feeling good, that's all that matters to me."

Jeter was resolute that yesterday was not a "retirement" news conference because there was still a full season to go, a season in which he fully expects to play well.

"Sounds like a guy that's ready to play," Sabathia said. "He looks good, he looks healthy."

General manager Brian Cashman said Tuesday he has plenty of concerns about the infield but shortstop isn't one of them.

It's the way he's felt much of the last 20 years.

"Those are the things you dream about when you're signing international talent or drafting somebody, is finding someone that's going to be with your franchise for as long as he's been," Cashman said. "A Secretariat, so to speak, that you can run in as many races as you can and win a lot. And he's been that type of player."

Jeter informed managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner about his plans last Wednesday morning, several hours before releasing his Facebook statement.

"It's a strange thought to think of the New York Yankees without Derek in the lineup, right?" Steinbrenner said. "But it's not over yet. It's not the end. Long season. It's going to be a good one. And while it's strange to think about that, it's really as he said, not the time to be thinking about that. A lot of work to be done. Still."

The Yankees missed the playoffs last season and while Sabathia wouldn't go so far as to say the club wants to make the postseason and win another title just for Jeter, it would be an ideal final season.

"I think as a whole we want to get back to where we want to be," Sabathia said. "It would be nice to send him off in a great way. He's always got [his share of] fairy tale endings so hopefully this will be a good one."

With David Lennon

New York Sports