Derek Jeter's star shines brightest
New York sports' flavors of the month come and go, but Captain remains king
NEW YORK -- Three rows behind the road on-deck circle, Tim Tebow, wearing a Yankees hat, sat next to Dwyane Wade. When Tebow's image flashed on the Yankee Stadium video board in center field, he gave a sheepish wave and received a mixture of loud cheers with a heavy dose of boos.
The new flavors of New York sports come and go, taking over the back pages of the tabloids and the front pages of the websites, but the king of New York sports kings remains Derek Sanderson Jeter.
Jeter has decided to have a curtain call on his legendary career, and it is steamrolling into something special. On Sunday night, he finished 2-for-5 with a three-run homer and a double, serving as another reminder the Yankees captain suddenly seems like he is going on 28 instead of 38.
It comes after a crisis of confidence tore down his swing last season and made him look as if the end was closing in on his Hall of Fame career. Now, with the renaissance that started in the second half of 2011, Jeter keeps pushing back the finish line as his diminishing number of doubters fall by the wayside.
Again on Sunday night, as the Yankees finally hit with runners in scoring position in this young season, Jeter smacked the hardest drive, a three-run opposite-field homer in the fourth that broke the game open in the Yankees' eventual 11-5 triumph over the Angels.
"He's lights out," said Yankees GM Brian Cashman. "He is swinging it as well as anyone in the league right now -- except for maybe Matt Kemp because I saw he has six jacks right now."
The Yankees entered Sunday's game batting .200 with runners in scoring position. And despite his hot start, even Jeter had failed in all nine of his chances prior to the three-run shot. Before Jeter, the homer-less Mark Teixeira nailed an RBI double and Alex Rodriguez came through with a run-scoring single, driving home Jeter, who had doubled.
A year ago, Jeter looked old and lethargic. After batting a career-low .270 in 2010, he carried a .256 average into July last season. Besides a two-homer game on May 8, he didn't go deep again until that magical day, July 9, when he went yard for career hit No. 3,000.[+] EnlargeNick Laham/Getty ImagesDerek Jeter looks to have turned back the clock in 2012.
Suddenly, with his old swing restored and the pressure of 3K behind him, Jeter began to hit like his old self. This year, he looks even better. "I'm comfortable," Jeter said. "Last year, I wasn't comfortable." While Jeter has an irrepressible belief in himself, even he knew something was amiss as he tried to kick his old swing -- and his age -- to the side while going after the 3,000-hit milestone. At points last season he could barely hit the ball out of the infield.
"His confidence wasn't where it is at now," Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long said. "When you lose your swing you sometimes lose some of your confidence. As confident as Derek is, he had to regain some of that. And he has done it and he has done it well."
Jeter is hitting .366 so far this season, a batting crown seems possible. Besides the homer, Jeter squared up a ball in the sixth, but it was a long out to center.
"I hit that one better, but it was to the wrong side of the field," Jeter said.
Jeter's fourth-inning homer came off lefty Hisanori Takahashi. It was a classic Jeter swing. This came after stroking a double off of Angels starter Jerome Williams in the third. It is like a different person is at the plate compared to last year at this time.
"We are talking about one of the greatest hitters of all time," Long said. "He lost a feel for a couple of months. Anybody in their baseball career, who has played 17 or 18 years, would tell you at some point they lost their swing. He got it back. Since then, he has been a really, really good player."
In the stands on Sunday night, Wade moved his seat to sit next to Tebow, wanting to be near the biggest story in New York. But the way this year has started, Tebow may be bumped to the side. A year after looking like he may be done, the king of New York athletes, Derek Sanderson Jeter, appears to have much more staying power.
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