TRENTON, N.J.--Quite a scene at Trenton tonight, one you’ll not see again anytime soon: a future Hall of Famer playing in a Class AA game while he is on the verge of getting his 3,000th big league hit.
That’s where Derek Jeter’s rehab assignment, on his way back to the majors from a right calf injury. He will bat leadoff tonight for the Thunder against the Altoona Curve, the Pirates Double A club, and will probably take three at-bats, Trenton manager Tony Franklin said.
There sure is buzz. Lots of cheering when he came onto the field for batting practice (although curiously little roaring when he hit one over the leftfield fence; maybe fans couldn’t follow the ball). A swarm of plaintive fans along the first base line as Jeter signed many autographs. People were taking photos of the lineup board, posted in the main concourse, showing Jeter in the leadoff spot for the Thunder.
Franklin said the only thing that compares in his memory was the time when he was managing the Birmingham Double A team and Bo Jackson came down for a rehab assignment. “It is special,” the manager said.
He said it was an opportunity for his players to see firsthand how a major league star prepares for and approaches a game. The preparation began Friday, when Jeter arrived unexpectedly early for his two-game stint. He practiced for 40 minutes and built an instant rapport with Trenton shortstop Jose Pirela. The two held a contest to see who could go the longest without bobbling a grounder.
“It was tied,” Pirela said, diplomatically, through translation by pitching prospect Dellin Betances.
Pirela was the one arguably most affected by Jeter’s arrival, having lost his starting position for two days. “The Skip, Tony Franklin, asked, `How do you feel that Derek Jeter is coming to play shortstop?’ I was joking back, `Well, can’t you tell him to play second base?’ ” Pirela said. “I’ve heard a lot about him from past guys, so I definitely expected a lot out of him and I was definitely honored to share that moment.”
Corban Joseph, the Thunder’s second baseman, was temporarily relieved of his jersey No. 2 and switched to No. 3. “I told him, `Maybe somebody will mistake you for Babe Ruth,’ ” Franklin said.
Joseph spoke at length with Jeter about double play relays and about how to make a career out of this game. Jeter told the young man about how different the majors are from Class AA. “He talked about how he uses failure as a positive, how he focuses on stuff that he struggles with to be that much better of a player,” Joseph said.
“This is something that I think everyone is going to cherish as long as they play,” Joseph said. “The odds of playing with Derek Jeter on the same field are slim to none for a 21-, 22-year-old.”
Jeter seemed fine in pregame to Franklin’s eyes. “I guess I’ve seen enough baseball players to know if they’re hurt. He had a nice easy gait,” the Trenton manager said of his short-term shortstop. Franklin knows what is riding on Jeter’s recovery. “I would like to see the Yankees win the World Series myself.”