The Yankees' Derek Jeter at bat during Opening Day against...

The Yankees' Derek Jeter at bat during Opening Day against the Tigers. (Mar. 31, 2011) Credit: Chris Ware

Derek Jeter said he felt the butterflies Thursday morning, just as he has in the hours before every other Opening Day game of his career.

The day that nervous energy disappears probably will signal the end is near for the Yankees' captain, and Jeter was in no mood Thursday to guess when that might occur.

"I don't have a countdown to the end," Jeter said.

As Jeter begins his 16th full season and closes in on his 3,000th career hit, so much of the discussion surrounding him lately has been about the end of his famed run. Yet he's been around here for so long that it's difficult to envision a Yankees universe without Jeter in the center of it.

You have to go all the way back to 15 years ago Saturday to find the last time Jeter was considered an unknown. That was his first Opening Day in the majors, coming one day after first-year manager Joe Torre openly wondered whether Jeter was ready for the big stage.

Batting ninth that day -- behind a catcher by the name of Joe Girardi -- the 21-year-old Jeter jump-started his career by hitting a home run off 40-year-old Dennis Martinez. Jeter also made two defensive plays that helped David Cone out of jams and preserved the Yankees' 7-1 victory over the Indians.

The game was played in Cleveland with temperatures in the mid-30s, just slightly colder than the 42-degree temperature at the start of Thursday's Yankees-Tigers game at Yankee Stadium.

But Jeter laughed after the Yankees' 6-3 win Thursday when asked which Opening Day was colder.

"That was my first one," Jeter said, "so I probably didn't even feel it."

That surely wasn't the case Thursday, Jeter said. The nervous energy he experienced wasn't anywhere near enough to mask the "freezing" weather. It was so bad, Jeter said, that he didn't even come into the heated clubhouse between innings because he didn't want to "tease" himself.

Jeter went 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly, and remained 74 hits shy of 3,000. He'll be the 28th player in major-league history to reach that plateau, which is as much a testament to his productivity as it is to his consistency and longevity. That he's done it only with the Yankees makes it all the more impressive.

But after Jeter's eye-opening performance in his first Opening Day, no one was ready to predict this type of Hall of Fame run. Instead, the big debate in the next day's newspapers was about the New York rookie shortstops. Who's better: Jeter or . . . wait for it . . . Rey Ordoñez.

(The Mets' slick-fielding, light-hitting Cuban defector was out of baseball by 2004.)

Not that Jeter would have wanted to hear such lofty predictions, anyway. He said he was too busy at the time trying to stick around in pinstripes as long as he could. It was a sentiment he said he shared with fellow youngsters Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.

"When we came up in this organization, the organization was known for getting rid of a lot of young guys," Jeter said. "We just wanted to make it and stay as long as we could. We were always afraid if we didn't do our job that they would get rid of us and get somebody else."

Job security hasn't been an issue for Jeter for some time, at least not until his future became such a vigorous debate last offseason. All that's certain is that he's signed through 2013, with a player option for 2014. But as he kicked off yet another Opening Day, he said his future wasn't on his mind.

Said Jeter: "I'm going to enjoy today."

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