Here’s another Derek Jeter story, and my guess is that it won’t the be last you’ll see this week. Baseball is basically using this year’s All-Star Game to celebrate the Yankees shortstop, so expect lots of television coverage throughout tonight’s game, as well as during the pregame and postgame shows. For now, here’s my Gannett colleague Bob Nightengale reporting from Minneapolis:
Fans are lined up across the street from the players’ downtown hotel, screaming at the mere sight of him.
Teammates are calling it among the greatest thrill of their lives.
His opponents already are scheming on different ways to celebrate the occasion.
Nike filmed a star-filled commercial, featuring everyone from Jay-Z to New York Knicks President Phil Jackson to Tiger Woods to Michael Jordan, that will air tonight before he steps to the plate for the first time.
The only one not showing the slightest bit of emotion at the All-Star Game, insisting he will be treating it like any other game, nothing rehearsed or planned, is the man of the hour himself.
Derek Jeter, shortstop of the New York Yankees.
You looking for something prophetic? You want drama? Maybe a quivering lip or a tear or two? Or even a pregame speech to his American League All-Star teammates?
This might be Jeter’s 14th and final All-Star Game, and it might be the last time he’s on the national stage if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs, but he’s not about to change his demeanor or expose his innermost feelings.
Jeter says he has no plans to give a pregame speech like teammate Mariano Rivera a year ago, but then again that could change.
Fox Sports asked him to wear a microphone during the game. Sorry, not interested, he said.
He didn’t bother to seek extra All-Star tickets for his relatives and friends, saying he’ll have six or seven family members and friends there, really no different than any other All-Star Game.
And please, he says, quit asking him how he will feel tonight or what emotions will run through him when he steps onto the field, when he has absolutely no idea.
“I don’t go into things with expectations,” says Jeter, wearing a designer blue suit and tie while every other player during Monday’s interview sessions was casually dressed. “I’m looking forward to playing the game, and I pretty much stopped it right there.
“I’ve always enjoyed the All-Star Games, and I’ve always appreciated it, so I don’t think I’ll treat this one any differently. Everybody wants me to be so emotional all of the time, but I’m coming here to play the game, and anything else that comes with it, I don’t know.”
OK, so maybe there will be no tears by Jeter, but you might want to take a look around the field at his teammates and the National League All-Star team.
“I know I’m going to have to hold in some emotions,” AL third baseman Josh Donaldson says. “As a kid, you don’t even fathom playing with a guy at that level. Now, I’ll be playing in the same infield with him.”
Says NL shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, “He’s everything I always wanted to be. He’s why I play shortstop. He’s why I wear No. 2. And to be starting across the opposite side of him, in his final All-Star Game, will definitely be cool.”
NL catcher Jonathan Lucroy already was making plans just how to react when Jeter leads off the first inning, and although he anticipates a lengthy, emotional standing ovation for Jeter, why not make it a little longer?
“When he comes to the plate,” Lucroy tells USA TODAY Sports, “you know he’s going to get a two-minute standing ovation. I was telling my wife, ‘What am I going to do? It’s going to be awkward.’ I figure I’ll just stand up and step behind the plate for a while, to make the cheers last longer.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my hands. I may drop everything and start cheering myself.”
Adam Wainwright, the NL’s starting pitcher, certainly has no plans to throw cookies down the middle of the plate, but considering the nerves he’s already feeling facing Jeter for the first time, who knows what those pitches will look like?
“I was telling my wife,” Wainwright says, “this will be something I’ll always remember. I feel very proud to say I’m going to face Derek Jeter. Just to be able to say I faced the best.”
Jeter-mania is going so crazy that a TV reporter even gave Jeter a present, a bathroom candle, saying he wanted to help him make the transition from showering with teammates in a stall to being alone.
Jeter, 40, might not want to admit it, but he realizes this night will be different.
He will be the epicenter.
It’s the primary reason Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona didn’t hesitate when AL manager John Farrell asked him to be on the staff. Sure, they are best of friends, but Francona didn’t want to miss this magical evening with Jeter.
“That’s the single high point of me being here,” says Francona, who managed against him with the Boston Red Sox, “to watch him in person. I am thrilled. He represents what is good about this game.”
Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who watched Jeter lead the Yankees past his team four times in eight years in the playoffs, says he’s honored to be wearing the same uniform.
“Although he’s kicked our butt a lot of times,” Gardenhire says, “and knocked us out of the playoffs, I’ve admired him so much. He makes everybody feel good about himself. I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it.”
Jeter, the 2000 All-Star MVP, says he appreciates the gestures, tributes and accolades. He will treasure private thoughts teammates, opponents, fans and even reporters have shared.
And yes, this final game surely will go down in his All-Star memory scrapbook.
He remembers his first All-Star Game, when he was too scared to talk to Baltimore Orioles shortstop Carl Ripken, and the first game he started in 2000 in Atlanta. But his greatest thrill was the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston when they announced the All-Century Team.
“All of those great players came on the field,” Jeter says, “and I get a tap on my shoulder. It’s Hank Aaron. And he said he was looking for me because he wanted to meet me. He wants to meet me?
“That’s one of the best moments that stands out on the baseball field.”
Yet while Jeter can talk about the All-Star moments, he’s not ready to sit back and talk about a career when the last chapter hasn’t been written.
“It’s been difficult for me to reflect on a career that’s not over yet,” Jeter says. “Everybody wants me to be emotional, but we still have games to play, you know what I mean?
“So it’s tough to reflect on a career when you’re still in it.”
Yet, on this night, everyone will be doing it for him.
Associated Press photos