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Who will get Derek Jeter's locker?

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter reacts after the last

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter reacts after the last out to end a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. The Yankees defeated the Orioles, 5-0. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

TAMPA, Fla. - It hasn't been officially retired yet, but you can bet no Yankee will ever again wear Derek Jeter's uniform No. 2.

General manager Brian Cashman recently said he thinks Jeter should be the last Yankees captain.

But what about Jeter's locker at Yankee Stadium?

By the April 6 season opener, which player will be handed the metaphorical key to the prime real estate Jeter occupied from 2009, when the current stadium opened, until 2014? And who will make that call?

According to Yankees brass, the decision rests in the hands of longtime equipment manager Rob Cucuzza, who has worked in the clubhouse since 1990 and has been putting players in their places since 1998.

"Robbie's in charge of the clubhouse," manager Joe Girardi said.

One thing is certain: The player who ends up with Jeter's old locker won't be surprised on Opening Day.

"Oh, no, no, no, no," Cucuzza said this past week. "We'll have to approach that player and say, 'This is your locker now.' "

Actually, Cucuzza already has sent out a feeler. He discussed the possibility of a locker change with Brett Gardner, who first joined the team in 2008 and is the second-most- tenured Yankee and a popular clubhouse figure.

"When he asked me about it, I told him he should leave it vacant,'' Gardner said Saturday. "He said he can't leave it vacant forever. I don't know yet if I'm going to be there or somebody else is. It doesn't really matter to me. It's just a locker. But it is Derek Jeter's locker, which is pretty cool.''

With minimal input from his bosses, Cucuzza has handled the clubhouse locating for some of baseball's biggest stars who have passed through the Bronx.

Lockers aren't seen as shrines or hallowed ground (except when the Yankees kept Thurman Munson's locker in the previous stadium unoccupied after the former captain was killed in a plane crash on Aug. 2, 1979).

These lockers are a working part of the clubhouse. They were built to be recycled. But Cucuzza admits this one is a little different. After all, it was Jeter's locker. "I'm sure whatever's decided, a lot of people will have to be in on that one," Cucuzza said. "We'll figure it out."

While Girardi said he doesn't see any symbolic importance in the decision -- "whoever's there is there," he said -- Cucuzza has a quarter-century of experience that says it matters a little bit.

"I think so," he said. "I'll give Joe and the rest of the group my decision on it and I'll see what they decide to do."

Despite the overture to Gardner, Cucuzza said Saturday that he still has not decided which player -- if any -- will get the locker. Said the man who will make the decision: "Stay tuned.''

If it doesn't turn out to be Gardner, who are the other possible candidates? If you go by the longest-tenured Yankee, that would be . . .

Alex Rodriguez.

Chances are very slim the Yankees would do that -- unless they really have a wicked sense of humor about A-Rod's return from his Biogenesis suspension.

There has been no indication, however, that the Yankees are amused at all about A-Rod's presence on the team or the $61 million plus potential home run bonuses they owe him over the next three seasons.

"I think Alex is fine where he is," Cucuzza said with a smile. "I think he's got one of the better lockers in the clubhouse."

Other possibilities could be CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, the other leftovers from the 2009 World Series championship team. "I don't know what they're going to do," Teixeira said. "You've got to ask Derek about that."

Or it could be a relatively new but otherwise important veteran such as Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brian McCann.

"I don't know, my friend," Beltran said. "That's not a player thing. Cucuzza might know."

Said McCann: "Someone's going to move into it. They're not going to keep the locker open."

Apparently the Yankees wouldn't dare give it to Jeter's replacement at short, Didi Gregorius. As if the 25-year-old doesn't have enough pressure on him. But that would be quite a welcome to New York.

If Gregorius can make it there, he can make it anywhere.

Masahiro Tanaka is the Yankees' ace, but the location of Jeter's former locker would have been problematic for the Japanese pitcher because he is always trailed by a large number of media members.

Cucuzza said that last year, Tanaka wanted to be in a location where his retinue of reporters "wouldn't bother his teammates" in his first Yankees season. So Tanaka was placed near the front of the room, off to one side, next to a door that leads to the offices of the manager and coaches.

"I asked him a few days ago if he was still OK with that spot," Cucuzza said. "He said, 'That's a good spot.' So I think he's there to stay."

Jeter's old locker is in the very back of the spacious clubhouse. It faces the door that visitors (or interlopers) such as the media walk through to enter.

To get to it, you walk across the length of the rectangular room, across a giant interlocking "NY" on the carpet, and Jeter's old locker is to the right of another door. That's the one players disappear into when they want to exit into an even more private area where only team personnel are allowed.

Like a Hamptons beach house, it's the perfect spot for a quick getaway.

"It's a prime-location locker," Cucuzza said. "That means something, too, the location of the locker. There are a handful of really prime lockers in the clubhouse that I'll allow the veteran guys to have first grabs."

For example, the locker across the open door adjacent to where Jeter dressed has been occupied by Jorge Posada, then Robinson Cano and now Beltran.

Rodriguez's locker is a few spaces over and faces the center of the room. It went unoccupied for most of last season until the Yankees added September call-ups and needed the space. Former Mets outfielder Chris Young ended up there.

In the old stadium, tradition ruled and tenure mattered more, Cucuzza said. Dave Righetti's corner locker was passed on to Don Mattingly, and then to Bernie Williams, and finally to Mariano Rivera.

In the new stadium, Rivera was given an extra dose of privacy with a space next to a wall in the middle of the room. The closer had no one to one side and an open locker to the other for his extra belongings.

Veterans always get the extra adjacent locker for their stuff. Jeter's was filled with boxes and boxes of Nike cleats and more than a few pieces of fan mail and, last year, gifts.

After he retired, Rivera's locker went to his replacement, David Robertson, for the 2014 season. A torch was passed in an obvious and seamless way that might not be possible in this case.

"I try and involve the veteran guys," Cucuzza said. "When we moved to the new stadium, I grabbed Jeter, Posada, Mo, and let them choose their lockers. I consider those lockers prime real estate now. People who fill those lockers are usually the guys with some time, and then I'll go from there."

Cucuzza said he will make his final decisions on the whole room in the next few weeks. For new players, it's a process reminiscent of picking a seat on a plane on the Internet.

"I'll show them a little diagram of the clubhouse and say, 'These are filled,' " he said. 'Starting pitchers are on this side. What do you think?' Brian McCann picked out a spot last year [near the front entrance] and now this year he has come to me to talk about perhaps moving to another location."

McCann is a natural-born leader but only a second-year Yankee. The catcher said it's part of clubhouse life that you move up in locker selection as you become more of a fixture on a team, as he did in his time with the Braves.

"I started in one of the worst lockers [with Atlanta]," he said. "Then ended up having one of the best lockers by the end."

Asked what makes a locker "the best," McCann said: "Placement. Near the training room. Weight room. Bathroom."

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