Derek Jeter he is not (Yankees’ new short stop hails from Curaçao)


This article by Martin Fennelly appeared in Tampa’s Tribune.

It is the year 1 A.D. — After Derek.

But retired Derek Jeter’s absence doesn’t dominate Yankees spring training, and that includes Monday’s game with the Rays at Steinbrenner Field. Nor does it hang over head of The Captain’s replacement. The trivia answer. The new man.

“Didi. Nice to meet you.”

That’s Didi Gregorius.


The Who who’s taking over as Yankees shortstop after 20 years of Jeter greatness.

“But I don’t look at it as replacing Derek Jeter,” Gregorius said. “It’s just that he’s not here and I’m the shortstop. This is just an opportunity to play the game.

“There are a lot of eyes on you wherever you play. Don’t put any more pressure on yourself. There’s already enough pressure. Replacing Derek, that’s not a way to look at it.”

Only a wing nut would expect Gregorius, 25, to be Jeter. Gregorius hit .226 last season for Arizona before coming to New York in the offseason as part of a three-way trade.

In 1999, when Jeter was 25, he batted .349 with 24 homers and 102 RBIs.

Yeah, yeah.

But was he ever knighted?

Sir Didi Gregorius was.

More on that later.

Gregorius is quiet. He is friendly. He is a wonderful infielder. Gregorius was on display against the Rays, the range, the arm, a diving grab.

“Amazing glove,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “I’ve played four or five games, and I’ve already seen him make four or five plays that most shortstops don’t make.”

But Gregorius is decidedly light on the stick, which could prove his undoing.

Even worse, he has no idea who Babe Dahlgren is.

Babe Ruth? He’s all over it. Babe Dahlgren? Not so much.

“I have no shot at that,” Gregorius said with a grin.

Babe Dahlgren is the Yankee who 76 years ago took over first base for the dying Lou Gehrig.

Gregorius has never met Jeter, who lives just a few miles from Steinbrenner Field. No one expects The Captain at this park anytime this spring. When he left, he left.

Jeter nowhere to be found might make the transition easier on Gregorius. Likewise the attention on Alex Rodriguez in his return to baseball. Didi Gregorius can operate in the quiet. At least until the real games start.

Jeter wasn’t around when Gregorius played his only game at Yankee Stadium, in April 2013, and hit his first major-league homer on the first pitch of his first at-bat in his first game for the Arizona Diamondbacks. “That’s the year when (Jeter) had the broken ankle,” Gregorius said.

The Yankees’ new shortstop was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands, but raised in Curacao, an island in the southern Caribbean Sea. In 2011, after Gregorius and his Netherlands teammates beat Cuba to win an international tournament, each player was knighted. So it’s Sir Didi, if you want to get technical. Gregorius smiled.

“I’m not going to go around and brag about it. A few people call me, ‘Sir Didi’ in Curacao, but I tell them they don’t have to.”

He follows royalty, one of his baseball heroes.

“Just all those plays he made,” Gregorius said of Jeter. “It was all so clutch.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash played for the Yankees for two months in 2009. He earned a World Series ring with the team. The next season, Cash was playing for the Astros against the Yankees and he doubled.

“Got on second base and Derek’s out there,” Cash said. “And I told him, ‘Man, it was a pleasure getting to be around you for two months.’ Just the way he carried himself. I mean, for everything he had going on in his life, Yankee captain, Yankee shortstop, icon, face of baseball, the way he carried himself was remarkable …”

Derek Jeter doesn’t work here anymore.

“I would say it’s weird for anyone, a Yankees fan — a baseball fan — not to see him out there,” Cash said.

Didi Gregorius works here every day.

Someone asked him what he’d do if he met The Captain.

“I guess, ‘Nice to meet you.’ Isn’t that what you say?”

Yes, sir.

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