On April 2, 1996, Derek Jeter and the number 2 were already synonymous.
It was his first Opening Day, the start of a championship season and eventual dynasty, and he did two things that were spectacular. Rarely does a player get even one such moment.
Dennis Martinez was 41 and in his 21st season as a Major League pitcher. “El Presidente” was making his fifth and final Opening Day start, this one for Cleveland at home. In the top of the third inning, with two on and two out, the right-hander faced the last batter in the Yankees lineup, a confident shortstop who wore No. 2 like he owned it.
On a 2-2 count, Martinez struck Jeter out looking. The rookie returned to the plate to lead off in the fifth and worked the count to 2-0. Then he swung at a fastball up and in, driving it well over the wall in left-center. It prompted a signature “Holy Cow!” from Yankee broadcaster and Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto, who just happened to have his own Yankee Stadium plaque at the time that read: “the all-time greatest Yankee shortstop.” Watch as Rizzuto makes the call on Jeter’s first Major League home run:
Second, in the field:
In the bottom of the seventh, David Cone was working on a 2-0 shutout and had just given up a two-out double to Sandy Alomar. That brought up Omar Vizquel. He swung at the first pitch and lofted a pop fly out to shallow left-center. Jeter hustled out toward the ball and made a great over-the-shoulder grab to rob Vizquel and end the inning, on the way to a 7-1 Yankee victory. Watch the catch:
Neither Scooter nor anyone could have known that Jeter would go on to claim that mantle as the all-time greatest Yankee shortstop, racking up 3,316 hits and five World Series rings, and now about to give his final Opening Day performance when the Bronx Bombers open the 2014 season on April 1 at Houston. MLB Schedule | Tickets
Yet one question always has been asked through the years: How did Jeter get No. 2 as a rook? What business did a kid from Kalamazoo have wearing a single-digit jersey for baseball’s winningest franchise when almost all of them (except 2 and 6) had been retired? Why, we have often wondered, did Bob Sheppard’s timeless intro at Yankee Stadium go like this: “Now batting for the Yankees, number two, Derek Jeter. Number two.”
In Jeter’s first spring training, 1995, the Yankees’ equipment manager asked Buck Showalter, then Yankee manager, what number he should assign the shortstop. Something in the 60s, perhaps? Showalter replied: “No, give him No. 2. . . . He is going to be special.” So Jeter wore No. 2 in his cup of coffee that September, and then for his meeting with Dennis Martinez. Mike Gallego had been the last Yankee to wear No. 2, from 1992-94. Seventeen players or coaches had worn the number for the Yankees since Mark Koenig wore it back in 1929, when that represented his spot in the batting order on a club that was wearing jersey numbers for the first season, so in reality it was never considered sacred and reserved by any means. But now 6 will be the only single digit available for the Yankees, once Jeter leaves the game and takes his number with him.
Jeter’s other most memorable Opening Day moment was a more dubious one. In 2003 at Toronto, it was Roger Clemens vs. Roy Halladay. Jeter already had doubled and then scored with his first AB of the season. Next time up, he walked, and on a double-play grounder to the pitcher, he dislocated his left shoulder when he collided at third while being tagged out by catcher Ken Huckaby. It meant a rare extended absence for Jeter, but that June he was named Yankee captain by George Steinbrenner, and the rest is history. His Turn 2 Foundation has had a big impacting the community, putting his number to good use.
Now we are two days away from Major League Baseball’s Opening Series in Sydney, Australia, and we’ll make it three Yankees in a row here, with a special nod to Red Schoendienst, Nellie Fox, Charlie Gehringer and Tommy Lasorda. And while we’re at it, let’s tip our cap to another active shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, poised for perhaps another big year with Colorado.
Who should be No. 1? Maybe we should “flip” for it…