Don Zimmer of the Tampa Bay Rays during batting practice...

Don Zimmer of the Tampa Bay Rays during batting practice before playing against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. (July 7, 2011) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Don Zimmer figures he was on hand for Derek Jeter's first 1,600 or so hits, so it only seems right that he is getting a chance to see No. 3,000.

Zimmer, 80, is a former Yankees bench coach who is a senior adviser for the Rays. He said before Thursday night's game between Tampa Bay and the Yankees that Jeter will go down in history as one of the all-time Yankees greats.

"I will be tickled to death if I get to see him hit 3,000," Zimmer said. "It will be history. I'll be out of my seat cheering like everybody else."

Jeter opened the game needing three hits to become the 28th player in major-league history to get at least 3,000 and the first to do it while playing for the Yankees. Jeter's mother, Dot, and father, Charles, were in a Stadium luxury box watching. So were a number of figures from his past, including Zimmer and Dick Groch, the man most responsible for making Jeter a Yankee.

Groch was a scout for the Yankees, working in the Midwest, when he first saw Jeter playing at an all-star camp at Western Michigan. Groch knew right away that Jeter was something special, and he pushed the Yankees to take him with the No. 6 pick in the 1992 draft.

Groch, now a special assistant for the Brewers, was invited to New York with his wife by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to be a part of the 3,000th-hit festivities. Before the game, Groch got a chance to talk briefly with Jeter, and he jokingly asked him if he could take a couple of days to get the hits so his wife could enjoy the shopping in New York.

"He told me he wanted to hit all three today," Groch said. "That's his mentality. He always wants to do the maximum and perform at the maximum level."

Jeter did look determined to crank out three hits when he doubled to left-centerfield on the first pitch of his first at-bat, but he went 1-for-5 and stalled at 2,998. Jeter grounded out to third in the second and fifth innings before grounding out to shortstop in the seventh and to third in the ninth for the final out of a 5-1 loss.

Zimmer said it was hard not to be impressed by Jeter's professionalism and work ethic when he became the Yankees' starting shortstop in 1996, and he believes those traits made him the player he is today.

Said Zimmer: "I can't stand it when anybody says anything negative about Jeter. I think he's one of the greatest Yankees who has ever lived. Of all the great Yankees, of all the Hall of Famers, none of them ever got 3,000 hits. And here he is. If someone doesn't think this is something really special, they have to be sick."

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