It was 1992, and Dick Groch had been tracking the young shortstop all over Michigan, weathering a bitter spring to chart the progress of a player he had already decided was destined for Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees had interest in Jeter, a standout from Kalamazoo Central High, but scouting director Bill Livesey had heard that Jeter was strongly considering a scholarship offer from the University of Michigan.
"He's not," Groch insisted. "The only place this player is going is Cooperstown."
As Jeter stands on the verge of becoming the 28th player in Major League history -- and the first Yankee -- to reach the 3,000-hit mark, Groch is among those who saw it all coming.
Now with the Brewers, Groch was then a Yankees scout delighted with the results of the 1992 First-Year Player Draft. Five teams passed on Jeter before the Yankees could call his name, and Groch knew every one of them had made a mistake.
"What I felt strongly about after talking to him was that there's two things he wanted to do," Groch said. "No. 1, he wanted to play professional baseball, and No. 2 -- which was very important -- he wanted to be a Yankee. That's the thing that he wanted."
Still, the burden of proof was on the scout, especially considering who was signing the paychecks.
George M. Steinbrenner III wasn't happy believing that his scouts were recommending future Major Leaguers -- he wanted to hear that they would handle the bright lights of New York and the accompanying pressure.
In short, Groch said, what Steinbrenner and his executives demanded to know was if these players -- like this Jeter kid, getting glowing blue-chip reports out of a soggy, miserable Michigan spring -- had what it took to be Yankees.
|"It's the difference between going to the Kentucky Derby and the state fair. When you see Secretariat, it takes your breath away. It's the same intangibles ... The relaxation, the fact that he believes in himself, that he doesn't understand there's such a thing as failure. It doesn't exist."|
-- Dick Groch,|
former Yankees scout
Some of the package was raw, and Jeter still had plenty of room to fill out in his frame, but Groch felt confident in announcing that he was looking at a future big league standout during those afternoons spent in Kalamazoo.
"Obviously at that age, you're concerned with the tools," Groch said. "He was a well-above-average runner with a well-above-average throwing arm; the hands, fielding, all that was there. The only concern you had was the bat."
Indeed, what is now a Jeter trademark -- slashing the ball the other way -- was at one point something that gave Groch some doubt.
"As a 17- or 18-year-old, he had that patented inside-out swing, and you're sometimes wondering if he is going to be able to make adjustments to Major League pitching," Groch said.
"But I asked him one day, 'Going to right field, is that your choice or the pitcher's choice?' And he said, 'No, that's my choice. I'm hitting the ball where I want to hit it.'"
There was an early flash of that developing Jeter confidence, the brand that has allowed him to handle New York with a wink and a grin, and Groch recognized an aura of leadership in the prospect.
"It's the difference between going to the Kentucky Derby and the state fair," Groch said. "When you see Secretariat, it takes your breath away. It's the same intangibles ... the relaxation, the fact that he believes in himself, that he doesn't understand there's such a thing as failure. It doesn't exist."
In his travels for the Brewers as a special assistant to the general manager in charge of pro scouting and player personnel, Groch will occasionally run into Jeter, exchanging pleasantries as they did during the Yankees' current homestand.
Like all scouts, Groch feels the pride of seeing a player he recommended go on to have success in the big leagues, having had a hand in the process that delivered Jeter to Yankee Stadium's entrance.
And when Jeter does eventually doff his helmet in recognition of that inevitable 3,000th hit, his eyes darting among the flashbulbs and roaring fans, Groch believes he'll feel something almost parental.
"It's one you nurtured from the beginning," Groch said. "It's sort of like looking at your newborn, and the next thing you realize, you're sending him off to college already.
"I think it's a matter of, I did my job. I recognized the player, I put him in a Yankees uniform, and he did what I predicted he was going to do. I'm proud that he made me the prognosticator of the year."