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'Just no comparison,' Derek Jeter says of how he feels

Derek Jeter leaves after a press conference at

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

TAMPA, Fla. - Joe Girardi had his full team in front of him for the first time, a group that included all of the high-priced talent the Yankees brought in during the offseason.

Still, the manager couldn't help but keep an extra-close eye on his shortstop, going through a Day 1 workout one final time in his career.

"It would not be normal for me to necessarily peek at him while he was running his sprints or stretching,'' Girardi said of Derek Jeter, who will retire after the season. "But I am going to be aware of that and pay attention to it. Because of what he's coming off of. Not because he's retiring, but what he's coming off of.''

Jeter, of course, is coming off a nightmare 2013 season in which he played only 17 games, the result of four stints on the DL.

The majority of those troubles could be traced to the broken left ankle Jeter suffered in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, an injury that prevented him from engaging in his usual offseason preparation. That made him feel as if he were constantly behind -- which he was -- from the first day of spring training.

That is not the case this year.

"Just no comparison,'' Jeter said. "I was out of a boot in January [2013] and trying to play a game the first of March, so there's no comparison whatsoever because I've had four months to basically only strengthen my legs. So I can't compare last year and this year.''

Of course, Jeter, who dropped five pounds to 194 to take pressure off his legs, always responded to questions about his ankle last year the same way: It feels good.

He smiled when that was pointed out, giving a version of the old line from boxing promoter Bob Arum: "Yesterday I was lying, today I am telling the truth.''

"I'm always going to tell you I'm fine,'' Jeter said. "This year I mean it.''

Jeter emerged from the dugout at 11:14 a.m. Thursday to huge cheers from a sizable Steinbrenner Field crowd enjoying a cloudless 80-degree day, then went through the kind of spring training workout that wasn't possible a year earlier. He started by taking grounders at short with his presumed backup, Brendan Ryan, took a full round of batting practice, returned to the field for more infield work, then concluded the day with a conditioning session.

"He was moving like he did in 2012,'' first base and infield coach Mick Kelleher said of Jeter's last healthy season, when he hit .316 in 159 games. "He looked good moving both ways.''

While Kelleher had the best angle on Jeter, standing just a few feet behind him, guest instructor Willie Randolph had a different view, pounding grounder after grounder at the shortstop.

Randolph was a coach with the Yankees from 1994-2004, coinciding with Jeter's first taste of the majors in 1995 and his AL Rookie of the Year campaign a year later. Randolph, who called it "surreal'' that it's been 20 years since then, said he made a point of watching Jeter's movements on Thursday while he took grounders.

"What I look for is to see if he's favoring anything,'' Randolph said. "And he wasn't. He looked the same to me as he's always been.''

Positives aside, Girardi intends to take things slow with Jeter. Girardi said he might not play in the first exhibition game or even the second, but by the end of spring training, he will have the requisite number of at-bats -- in his mind, about 60.

"One thing I've learned through the years is it's not important to be ready for the first spring training game,'' Jeter said. "It's important to be ready for Opening Day.''

Signs encouraging and thanking Jeter peppered the crowd at Steinbrenner Field, but he said he didn't pay any closer attention Thursday than he did in the past.

"I see them,'' Jeter said. "I've always seen them, though. I saw them today. I don't know if I'll look at them more or read them more. I don't know if I'll listen more. I try to, but I still have a job to do. I'm sure I'll take it in at some point; I can't tell you when.''

With David Lennon


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