TORONTO – Derek Jeter insists he’s trying to keep things normal. But especially on the road, that’s pretty much impossible.
A veritable phalanx of cameras and reporters greeted Jeter in the New York Yankees’ Rogers Centre dugout late Friday afternoon. As the old joke goes, there wasn’t a tent big enough to enclose the media circus for the start of the 40-year-old shortstop’s final series north of the border.
And when the game started, Jeter got a roaring standing ovation – from Blue Jays and Yankees fans alike in the crowd of 43,318 – prior to his first at-bat.
“It’s been pretty much on the field like every other season,” Jeter said prior to the Yankees’ 6-3 win. “We’re trying to win games. The fan reaction has obviously been a lot different. Some of the places I’ve been used to getting booed, it’s been quite the opposite.
“Fans have always been respectful to me, but this year it’s been an overwhelming reception.”
The reaction will only get ramped up starting this weekend, with scores of Yankees fans making the trip across the border from Western New York as he opens the final month of his career. Jeter has said since spring training he’s not focused on the finish of his final season – do not call it a “farewell tour” in his presence – and said he doesn’t know how he’ll feel as it careens to the finish.
“I’ve never done it before,” he said of approaching retirement. “Obviously, the closer you get to the end, the more your attention goes toward it and I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it. But at this particular point, we’re trying to win games. So I’m trying my best to treat it like any other season.”
Jeter went 1 for 5 in the game, showed his limited, 40-year-old range at shortstop on a couple balls and bounced a throw to first for an error on a Jose Reyes grounder in the seventh.
But the fans stirred on each at-bat and that kind of reaction has been universal across baseball, just as it was last year for retiring closer Mariano Rivera.
“It’s been special,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “The fans have shown the utmost respect, giving a visiting player standing ovations like he has numerous times.”
“He’s been such a cornerstone for that team for a lot of years,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “He produces year and after year, and he’s been doing it for a long, long time. Pretty much nobody has done it better.”
Jeter is still holding out hope the Yankees can sneak into the playoffs, as they sit three games out of the final wild-card slot with 29 to play. He’s trying not to focus on a life with no baseball.
But he was asked what might he be doing on, say, a Wednesday in July next year?
“On a Wednesday in July, I won’t be talking to you,” he said, laughing with a Toronto television reporter. “I’ll be somewhere relaxing. I have no plans and I don’t want to make plans. I just want to relax. I’ve been scheduling plans for years. When this season is over with, I don’t want to make any.”
The Yankees won the game by wiping out a 1-0 deficit with a five-run seventh off Toronto starter Mark Buehrle (11-9), who fell to 1-13 against the Yankees in his career. The Blue Jays made two errors in the inning and Jacoby Ellsbury blasted a two-run homer to cap the uprising.
Ellsbury tripled in the ninth but was thrown out at the plate and suffered a left ankle injury. It was wrapped and X-rayed after the game and Girardi said his leadoff man is unlikely to play today (1 p.m., YES).
Prior to the game, the Yankees announced Masahiro Tanaka is being sent back to New York because of general soreness in his arm and will be pulled off his throwing program, further casting his return this season in doubt.
Jose Bautista homered for Toronto while Kevin Pillar, just up from the Bisons had two hits and a spectacular diving catch on the backhand in center field.
It’s a good bet that Jeter will not play today because it’s a day game after a night game. He’ll be honored in a pregame ceremony Sunday. Both games are sellouts.
“I don’t know what we’re going to give him. It’s top-secret stuff,” said a grinning Gibbons. “I expect it would be nice.”
Michael Pineda (3-2, 1.95) starts for the Yankees today against Toronto’s Drew Hutchison (8-11).