Commentary

Shortstop story: Bogaerts vs. Jeter

AL East rivalry pits Red Sox phenom Xander against Yankees captain Derek

Updated: April 13, 2014, 6:26 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

NEW YORK -- So, Derek Jeter is asked, what do you think of a Red Sox rookie, Xander Bogaerts, wearing your No. 2 in your honor?

"Yeah, I heard that," Jeter said. "Curious to see what Red Sox fans think about that."

He laughed.

His visitor was curious, now that Jeter has declared his intention to retire at the end of the season, about how Sox fans will react to his first visit to Boston, nine days from now.

"Don't know," he said, heading out of the Yankees' clubhouse. "I haven't looked that far ahead. We'll see."

[+] EnlargeXander Bogaerts and Derek Jeter
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesXander Bogaerts tags Derek Jeter out in spring training action.

Derek Jeter was 21 when he became the Yankees' every-day shortstop in 1996. The Yankees' catcher on Opening Day that year was Joe Girardi, now the team's manager.

At 21, Xander Bogaerts is the youngest Opening Day shortstop the Red Sox have had in 100 years. He was still four months away from being born when Jeter signed his first professional contract with the Yankees in 1992. Bogaerts turned 21 on Oct. 1, just days before playing in his first World Series. He was a year younger than Jeter was in his first Series.

The players, separated by nearly two decades, are very similar in build. Jeter is listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. Bogaerts is 6-3 and listed at 185 but looks bigger. (Bogaerts says he's 6-2, 205.)

"Growing up, he was my favorite player," said Bogaerts. "I mean, he's just a good person, on and off the field. He came up big-time in big situations for the Yankees, all those World Series.

"What do I appreciate about him most? Everything. He's never been in trouble for anything, just a clean man. You don't hear too much about him off the field."

No, Bogaerts said, he hasn't sought out Jeter to talk and was unsure whether he'd do so here, as the Sox and Yankees wind up their four-game series Sunday night at Yankee Stadium.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "But as of now, no."

Jeter, a New Yorker seemingly for life but originally a native of Kalamazoo, Mich., is asked whether young players seem timid about approaching him.

"Timid?" he repeated.

Like Bogaerts, for example, who sounded hesitant about approaching his idol.

"I've talked to him," Jeter said. "I mean, briefly. Can't have an extended conversation, we're in the middle of a game, but I've talked to him."

He knows Bogaerts more by reputation as a top prospect than from what he has actually witnessed.

"I've heard that," Jeter said about the high expectations Bogaerts carries, "but I've not seen him play much. I wasn't here most of last year, so I saw him just a couple of times. You hear things, but I haven't really seen him."

This is Bogaerts' second visit to Yankee Stadium. His first came on Sept. 7, when he played shortstop in a Saturday afternoon game. Jeter was playing shortstop for the Yankees.

"He hit his first homer," said Mike Napoli, who was sitting alongside Bogaerts, chatting with a visitor. "A bomb over the bullpen."

"I got it good," Bogaerts said. "It's my only one."

"Your only one?" Napoli said, surprised.

"So far, yeah."

[+] EnlargeXander Bogaerts
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesIs Xander Bogaerts ascending to shortstop royalty?

Some of the details were a bit murky for Bogaerts. He thought he hit it off Adam Warren. It came off another Yankees reliever, Jim Miller. Napoli, meanwhile, can not only tell you the pitcher (Justin Verlander) he hit his first off but also the count ("1 and 2"), the pitch ("curveball") and the fact it was caught in the bullpen by the Angels' bullpen catcher.

"Funny story," Napoli said. "The bullpen catcher had come up to me before the game and said, 'Get me a ball.' I hit it right to him."

Bogaerts, a son of the tropics, said he struggles to hit in April. It was worse in Portland, where he spent last April with the Double-A Seadogs.

"I don't think I've ever hit one in April," he said. "I'm still getting my timing, especially in the cold. I don't feel loose, like I can just be me. I'm not used to it."

Napoli, who grew up in Florida, is sympathetic. "You don't sweat," he said. "I put a hoodie on, just to work up a sweat."

Bogaerts should have had a home run on Opening Day in Baltimore. With two runners aboard, he hit a ball as hard as it was possible for him to hit it, and it went nowhere in a strong breeze blowing in from left. In three games in New York so far, he has three singles, including a broken-bat flare over the second baseman's head Saturday.

Jeter, meanwhile, has played in two of the three games and also has three hits, a double and two singles. He sat out Saturday's game; Girardi was asked several questions from reporters wondering if Girardi knew how much he was disappointing fans by having Jeter sit.

"I don't manage farewell tours," he said.

Jeter sat out again Sunday night, with Bogaerts playing short and batting second. Jeter turns 40 on June 26. This is his 20th season in the big leagues, counting his late-season call-up at the end of 1995.

Could Bogaerts imagine playing that long?

"Yeah," he said. "That's a long time, huh? But he's been healthy for most of it, hasn't he?"

Jeter is asked how it feels to be the idol of someone who shares the same dream he had when he was 21.

"It feels good," he said. "It wasn't that long ago. I remember coming up and playing against Cal [Ripken Jr.], watching him growing up. To get the opportunity to play against him was kind of odd at first. But it always makes you feel good, when somebody appreciates the way you play."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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