Former Yankees shortstop talks about experience in island nation
By Joe Trezza
The historic exhibition contest between the Rays and the Cuban national team wasn't just the first Major League Baseball game in Cuba in 17 years. Apparently, it was also Derek Jeter's first game in the stands, period.
"This is the first time I've watched a game from the stands," the former Yankees shortstop told ESPN in an interview during the Rays' 4-1 win at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. "I've been back to Yankee Stadium a few times when they retired my teammates' numbers, but I haven't actually sat down and watched a game. It's kind of fun to do it in person."
On hand at the suggestion of his former manager and MLB's current executive vice president for baseball operations, Joe Torre, Jeter traveled to Cuba as part of a party that included Commissioner Rob Manfred, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, Jose Cardenal and Luis Tiant.
Over the course of the first few innings, Jeter engaged in several short conversations with President Barack Obama. Obama called for the lifting of the Cuban trade embargo during his visit to the island -- the first by a sitting U.S. President since 1928.
Dressed casually in a T-shirt, jeans and aviator sunglasses, Jeter was asked about the ubiquity of Yankees attire in the attended crowd of more than 55,000. The Yanks' storied history makes them baseball's most recognizable team throughout the world. The same is true for Cuba, the home of several extremely popular players who have played in pinstripes. Aroldis Chapman, who defected in 2009, should clamp down the back of the Yankees' bullpen for most of 2016.
"I don't want to say it's surprising," said Jeter, who was teammates with Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras. "Because we have a couple of the biggest Cuban stars come to play for us in New York, but the amount of Yankee things here is kind of eye-opening."
Jeter enjoyed a déjà vu moment when James Loney homered off Livan Moinelo to put Tampa Bay up 3-0 in the fourth inning. Loney is entering his fifth season in the American League East, a span that overlaps with Jeter's final three seasons with the Yankees.
"James used to kill us. So it's fun now to have an opportunity to watch him from the stands and I can actually pull for him," Jeter said. "I needed to be away from the game for a year, and I didn't watch too many games. Obviously I have a lot of friends who are still playing and I communicate with them. But in terms of sitting down and following the game, I haven't done It. I'm going to start doing it again, because I've always been very vocal about my next goal and desires to be part of an ownership group, so I have to start paying attention."
Shortly afterwards, Jeter turned back toward the field to continue building that new perspective.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.