Jeter made Albany-Colonie debut 20 years ago tonight
Caleb Joseph will always remember Derek Jeter.
The Baltimore Orioles were beating the New York Yankees late Sunday afternoon when Joseph, the Orioles’ rookie catcher, hit a ball into the left-field stands of Yankee Stadium for an 8-0 lead.
Bleacher tradition at the stadium mandates all opposition home runs must return to the field. Some guy tossed the Joseph ball into left field, to the usual cheers.
Yankee shortstop Jeter knows the game. He knew the shot was Joseph’s first major league home run and made sure the ball was brought to the visitors’ dugout.
Joseph thought that was pretty cool.
“It’s going to be fun to one day tell my kids that I played against Derek Jeter,” he said, during a post-game radio interview.
Caleb Joseph may not stay with the Orioles for 20 seasons, a feat Jeter has accomplished for New York. The Yankee captain, who this spring announced the 2014 season would be his last, made the Capital Region his baseball home for part of the 1994 season. He played shortstop for the Albany-Colonie Yankees of the Eastern League for 34 games during the early summer.
A 19-year-old Jeter played his first game for Albany-Colonie on June 25 — 20 years ago tonight. He had been New York’s top pick in the 1992 baseball draft and, after leading the Florida State League with a league-best .329 average and league-best 96 base hits, the front office decided Albany would be the next stop.
Mariano Rivera started that game at Heritage Park in Colonie and improved to 2-0 as the Yanks beat the New Britain Red Sox, 9-1. Jeter walked and scored a run in the Yankees’ five-run fourth inning.
Jeter, who turned 20 the following day, didn’t come in as the big star. Tate Seefried hit his 19th and 20th home runs of the season on Jeter’s first night. Also in the line-up was Matt Luke, who had been leading the Florida State League in homers at the time of his promotion. Both had been playing for Tampa.
“He was the same guy, no matter where he was,” said Bill Evers, who managed Jeter and the Yankees in ’94. “I had him in Double A ball and Triple A, so I was fortunate enough to see him progress and get better and make the impact he’s made in the big leagues.”
Evers batted Jeter second in the lineup, and the shortstop struggled at the plate for a few games. “But I never got down,” he told Gazette sportswriter Bill Palmer in ’94. “Really, all it is is keeping your confidence up, whether it’s offensively or defensively. Once you feel comfortable, you’re going to remember things.”
By July 16, he had a 12-game hitting streak, and had picked up hits in 17 of his first 20 games for Albany-Colonie. Evers didn’t think the Yankees were in a great rush to bring Jeter to the majors. “I don’t see a dire need to push him,” he said in ’94. “Let him get his feet wet here.”
Jeter seemed content to walk in the water, and let his baseball overlords decide the best time to move up.
“They’re going to do what they think is best,” Jeter said. “You don’t want to rush, then fail and be messed up mentally. They’ve moved me quickly, so far. I’m not complaining.”
Jeter was in an Albany-Colonie uniform for a memorable day in the majors. On July 8, shortstop Alex Rodriguez started his first game for the Seattle Mariners against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park. At 18, Rodriguez became the youngest player in baseball. Both would later play in the Yankee’ infield.
Evers, who now lives in New Port Richie, Fla., and is a minor league field coordinator for the Tampa Bay Rays, said Jeter in the minors acted the same way as does Jeter in the majors.
“He’s into the game, he’s always on the top step,” Evers said. “You don’t see him yelling or screaming, but you will see him talk to somebody after a tough at-bat or they make an error in the field. He’s the type of guy who will go by and pat the guy on the back to show he’s part of the team, and he wants him to relax and do the best he possibly can. He’s a real professional teammate. He wants everybody to do well.”
Evers was glad to manage Jeter, and other players who would become famous Yankees.
“I was fortunate enough to have him, Mariano, Pettitte [pitcher Andy Pettitte] and Posada [catcher Jorge Posada] at the same time,” he said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have Bernie Williams. Those other four guys, I was blessed to have. I was the fortunate one to tell Derek he was going to the big leagues, and fortunate to tell Mariano, Posada . . . I look back at it to this day and say, ‘I wish I remember some of those little stories I had with them.’ ”
He has one little story about Jeter — the player’s reaction when he learned he was going to New York in 1995. By then, both manager and shortstop were with the Columbus Clippers of the International League.
“I said to him, kidding around, ‘Derek, do you want the good news or the bad news?’ ” Evers said. “He said, ‘Tell me the bad news.’ I said, ‘The bad news is, you’re not going to be a Columbus Clipper anymore.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Tell me the good news.’ The good news was he was going to the big leagues.”
Jeter first arrived in Columbus in early August of 1994. He played his last game for Albany-Colonie on July 31, going 2-for-5 with a run scored in the Yankees’ 6-2 win over the New Haven Ravens in Connecticut. In 34 games for the Yankees, Jeter had racked up 122 at-bats, rapped 46 hits — including two home runs — and driven in 13 runs. He was batting .377 when he left the Capital Region.
The rest of the Yankee farmhands left the area after the season, never to return. The team moved to Norwich, Conn., for the 1995 season and ended the Eastern League’s 11-year run in Albany.
Evers would occasionally see Jeter in the majors. In 2006 and 2007, the old manager was a bench coach for the Rays.
“He would always make sure to come by and say hello,” Evers said. “I used to get ribbed by the Rays guys, ‘He would always come by and say hello to you, you must be special to him.’ He made me feel special. That’s the type of person he was.”