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Saturday, July 9, 2011
Red Sox players praise Derek Jeter

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees share one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.

There have been epic battles, bench-clearing brawls, championships won, championships lost, and through it all there's almost always been a mutual respect.

So it wasn't surprising that the Red Sox were watching television in the home clubhouse at Fenway Park as Derek Jeter made history Saturday afternoon, collecting his 3,000th hit against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.

Jeter no doubt is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and he has earned the respect of players across baseball, especially Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

"It's not just me, it's the whole league," Pedroia said. "This guy has played the game right for a long time. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer and when he's done, I don't think there will be a bad thing said about him. He's a first-class guy. He's a winner. The highest praises you could say about a guy is what you would say about Jeter."

During the 2008 All-Star Game at the old Yankee Stadium, Pedroia was a first-time All-Star when he received an on-field visit from Jeter. In fact, the Yankees shortstop went out of his way to talk to the AL Rookie of the Year from 2007.

"It was great and that's the type of guy he is," Pedroia said. "He helps out young guys. He helps out older guys. He helps out everybody. The game needs more guys like Derek Jeter. It's unbelievable what he's been able to do throughout his career, and to get a chance to play against him the last five years is pretty cool, man, it's pretty cool."

Of the 3,003 hits Jeter has amassed in his career, he has recorded the most off Red Sox veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. In 122 at-bats, Jeter has 34 hits off Wakefield.

"It's a fitting tribute to a guy that has spent his whole career with one organization and has been a true professional his whole career there," Wakefield said. "For him to get 3,000 hits in the amount of time that he's done it is pretty amazing. It shows how great of an athlete he is and I have the utmost respect for him the way he goes about his business. He's as professional as anyone. It's pretty cool that I've faced him the most times of anybody."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona broke into a big smile Saturday afternoon when asked to discuss Jeter's career and accomplishments.

"If you like baseball, he's a lot of what's good in baseball. He respects the game. He plays the game right. He makes me proud for the way he goes about his business."

Francona first saw Jeter play as a 19-year-old prospect in the Arizona Fall League and it didn't take him long to realize the type of player he would soon become.

"He's the same kid with a different haircut," Francona said. "He always plays the game right. He always treats people right and he tries to beat your brains out. That's a good way to go about things."

Francona, a baseball lifer, has seen generations of players become members of the 3,000-hit club and even played with the all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, during his time in Montreal.

Even though it took Jeter a relatively short amount of time to accomplish the feat, Francona is impressed with something else in Jeter's arsenal of talent.

"I don't care how long it takes," Francona said. "That's an unbelievable accomplishment. The numbers speak for themselves. I just think the other side of it is as impressive or more because of the way he conducts himself and the way he respects the game. When you're that talented, you're going to get hits if you stay out there. I appreciate the way he respects the game -- a lot."

Because the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, Francona was the manager for the AL All-Star team in 2005 at Detroit. Jeter did not play in that season's midsummer classic, so during a Red Sox-Yankees series earlier that year, Francona made it a point to track down Jeter. The two spoke in the tunnel behind one of the dugouts at Fenway Park.

"I told him, 'I've wanted to [manage an All-Star Game] for a long time, and the fact that you're not on the team is upsetting to me.' I just wanted him to know I cared. He was polite. He's never not polite."

Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek has crouched behind the plate countless times while Jeter stood in against a Red Sox pitcher. Boston's captain knows exactly how talented Jeter is and how difficult it is to try to get him out, and Varitek praised Jeter's latest accomplishment.

"For anyone, that's a fabulous feat," Varitek said. "To be a part of it in your generation of players is pretty neat. He's been a superstar pretty much since Day 1 that I've been in this uniform and have played against him. He's carried himself that way, he's played that way and there's a reason he has 3,000 hits.

"A great part of my career are the head-to-head battles with that organization. That has been hundreds and hundreds of games. It's been fun. I have the utmost respect for him as a player, the way he conducts himself and the way he conducts himself as a champion."

For years, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon has been praising Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, but on Saturday, Papelbon tipped his cap to Jeter.

"He's been one of the true statesmen of the game. He plays the game the right way," Papelbon said. "From my perspective, I've always loved to compete against him. Every time I have an at-bat against him, it seems like it's a 12- to 15-pitch at-bat. For me, and for this season, it's one of the high points of baseball."

Papelbon will be a free agent after this season, and if he doesn't re-sign with the Red Sox, it wouldn't be out of the question for him to end up wearing pinstripes. When asked if he would like to be a teammate of Jeter's, Papelbon said: "Yeah. He's one of those guys who you hate to play against but would love to play with."

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.