Derek Jeter is just 74 hits shy of 3,000 for...

Derek Jeter is just 74 hits shy of 3,000 for his career as the 2011 season starts for the Yankees on March 31. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. -- Given that Derek Jeter has consistently treated past pursuits of individual accomplishment as a pain rather than a pleasure, his word choice Feb. 20 stood out.

"I don't take anything for granted. I'm not just assuming that's something that's going to happen, but [I'll] just try to enjoy it,'' Jeter said of his upcoming chase for career hit No. 3,000. "I think in the past, I've tried to pretty much block it out and not pay attention to it, but any time you're talking about something as special as that, I think it's something that should be appreciated -- I'm talking about myself -- appreciate the journey and have fun with it.''

Enjoy? Have fun? Even with the daily questions increasing tenfold as the date, presumably sometime in mid-June, draws near?

Jeter, who enters the season 74 hits short of 3,000 -- a plateau no player who has spent his entire career in pinstripes has reached -- swears he'll try.

"Not too many people have done it,'' said Jeter, who turns 37 in June. "It's really a mark for a lot of years people have looked to as something that's very, very hard to do.''

With his first few hits, Jeter will pass several big names, including Rogers Hornsby and Willie Keeler.

Only 27 players (13 of whom have been righthanded hitters) have had at least 3,000 hits. The last player to reach 3,000 was Craig Biggio, the former Kings Park star athlete, who did it in 2007.

Robinson Cano has 1,075 career hits, 1,060 as a second baseman since his debut May 3, 2005, most among all major league second basemen in that span, according to Elias. (Chase Utley of the Phillies ranks second with 962.)

Cano, coming off back-to-back seasons in which he's had at least 200 hits, shook his head and laughed when asked to ponder the number 3,000.

"That's a lot, damn,'' Cano said during spring training. "He's going to be the only one in Yankees history. I mean, the guy works hard every year. You really have to admire a guy like him and appreciate the way he works and the way he plays. He's a class act.''

For Jeter, the nature of the race to 3,000 is one reason he believes he'll be able to enjoy it. "You're always trying to get a hit every time up,'' he said.

Perhaps one reason he's determined to have fun this time around is because he clearly did not enjoy his last run at a record in August and September 2009, when he was in the process of passing Lou Gehrig for the franchise hits record. He achieved it Sept. 11, 2009, with No. 2,722 off the Orioles' Chris Tillman.

"When Derek takes the field, he takes the field to do whatever he can to help the team win,'' manager Joe Girardi said. "If he gets his 3,000th hit on a day we lose, he's probably not going to be real happy about it. But I hope he can [enjoy it] because it really is an unbelievable accomplishment. It's hard to believe, someone getting 3,000 hits.''

An added component to the countdown is the season Jeter had in 2010. Should he have his typical season, something he didn't come close to having last year, Jeter should reach 3,000 in mid-to-late June. But he's coming off a year in which he had career-low numbers in batting average (.270) and on-base percentage (.340) -- numbers that helped feed the contentiousness of contract negotiations that eventually resulted in a new three-year deal, with a player option for a fourth year, in which he's taking a significant pay cut.

Jeter, who has been working with hitting coach Kevin Long to eliminate his stride before he swings, said throughout spring training that his struggles in 2010 give him no extra motivation this season.

"I can't say that I'm any more motivated by anything that's gone on,'' Jeter said. "I'm pretty motivated coming into every season.''

Girardi agreed, though he added: "I think he believes he's better than a .270 hitter.''

Barring injury, Jeter will get to 3,000 at some point in 2011, something he plans to revel in, as do his teammates.

"I'm so happy for him,'' Cano said. "I can't wait for that day to happen. I'm going to be the first person to come on the field and tell him congratulations. Man, 3,000 . . . ''

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