DP partners cherish memories of playing next to Jeter

DP partners cherish memories of playing next to Jeter

Even more than all the games, hits and moments, the presence endures. Just looking over to the right and seeing the reassuring, confident figure wearing pinstripes has created a unique bond for the men who played second base alongside Derek Jeter throughout the Yankees captain's career.

Fifty-three players have manned second base over the course of Jeter's 20 seasons in the Major Leagues. Some of the names of his co-workers, such as Corban Joseph, Andy Cannizaro, Felix Escalona and Kevin Russo, don't ring much of a big league bell. Others, such as Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Chuck Knoblauch, ring it loudly.

So where better to start with the memories from a fielding position adjacent to Jeter in Seattle on May 29, 1995?

The 20-year-old shortstop from Kalamazoo, Mich., the talk of the Yankees system since being taken with the sixth overall pick in the 1992 First-Year Player Draft, is making his first appearance in the big leagues. He's settling in between second and third on the Kingdome carpet. He's ninth in the batting order, right behind young outfielder Bernie Williams. Randy Velarde is at second base and has no way of knowing that he's witnessing the very beginning of an iconic era in Yankees history.

"I remember a young man with a long, wiry, strong body who had all the tools, and everybody knew exactly who he was," said Velarde, who also started at second base four days later when Jeter made his Yankee Stadium debut (although Dave Silvestri came in to play second in the eighth inning).

KEYSTONE PARTNERS
Yankees second basemen during Derek Jeter's career:
PLAYER
David Adams (2013)
Dean Anna (2014)
Mark Bellhorn (2005)
Clay Bellinger (1999-2000)
Wilson Betemit (2007-08)
Homer Bush (1997-98, 2004)
Miguel Cairo (2004, 2006-07)
Andy Cannizaro (2006)
Robinson Cano (2005-13)
Francisco Cervelli (2011, 2013)
Wilson Delgado (2000)
Stephen Drew (2014)
Mariano Duncan (1996-97)
Robert Eenhoorn (1995-96)
Felix Escalona (2005)
Tony Fernandez (1996)
Andy Fox (1996-97)
Alberto Gonzalez (2007)
Nick Green (2006)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (2009)
Charlie Hayes (1997)
Matt Howard (1996)
D'Angelo Jimenez (1999)
Kelly Johnson (2014)
Russ Johnson (2005)
Corban Joseph (2013)
Pat Kelly (1995-97)
Chuck Knoblauch (1998-2000)
Jim Leyritz (1996)
Russell Martin (2011)
Casey McGehee (2012)
Jayson Nix (2012-13)
Eduardo Nunez (2010-13)
Ramiro Pena (2009-11)
Andy Phillips (2006-07)
Jorge Posada (2011)
Martin Prado (2014)
Cody Ransom (2008-09)
Mark Reynolds (2013)
Brian Roberts (2014)
Kevin Russo (2010)
Brendan Ryan (2014)
Rey Sanchez (1997, 2005)
Dave Silvestri (1995)
Luis Sojo (1996-2001, 2003)
Yangervis Solarte (2014)
Alfonso Soriano (2000-03)
Randy Velarde (1995)
Robin Ventura (2003)
Jose Vizcaino (2000)
Vernon Wells (2013)
Enrique Wilson (2001-04)
Tony Womack (2005)

"He was highly touted and a lot of people were talking about him in Spring Training," said Velarde. "With all that said, though, you just didn't know. You saw all the tools. You saw how smooth he was at shortstop, you saw how driven he was and you saw the bat speed, but that didn't necessarily mean he'd make it in the Major Leagues, and that definitely didn't mean he'd have anywhere close to the kind of career he ended up having. That part of it is just amazing.

"And even better than how well he played is how he carries himself, how he really honors the integrity of the game. Everyone knows that about him, but he's even better than that when you get to know him. He's just a wonderful person, and the fact that he not only survived the frenzy of that media market but flourished in it the way he did, well, that part is almost miraculous."

Robert Eenhoorn was on that same 1995 team, the one that lost in five games in the American League Division Series to that same Seattle team, right there in that same Kingdome building. Eenhoorn was Jeter's roommate on that road trip and the utility man for the Yankees when the 1996 season began and the kid was the everyday shortstop and eventual Rookie of the Year and first-time World Series champion. He recalls Jeter's homer on Opening Day in Cleveland that year and a lot after that.

"What I remember from Derek is what a nice guy he is," said Eenhoorn, a native of the Netherlands who is now the technical director of his country's national baseball team.

"From the beginning, it all came very natural to him. He's a great guy, and there's nothing, really, to hide for him. He's been the same guy despite all the things he's done, all the championships. He has the same attitude he had when he started his pro career.

"Every once in a while in sports, you come across that superstar, and the superstar himself seems to be the only guy who doesn't know he's a superstar because of the way he handles himself. And that's him."

Jeter was approaching superstar status by the end of the 1996 season, and second basemen who had shared the field with him also included Tony Fernandez, Mariano Duncan, Luis Sojo, Matt Howard, Pat Kelly, Andy Fox and even Jim Leyritz, who filled in briefly during a blowout.

By the time the Yankees dynasty was in full swing, with three consecutive World Series titles from 1998-2000, New York had filled in the cracks at second with Homer Bush, Clay Bellinger, Charlie Hayes, Jose Vizcaino, Wilson Delgado and Rey Sanchez, and kept Sojo around as a valuable bench player.

In 1998, they solidified second base by acquiring four-time All-Star Knoblauch, who would win three rings. Soriano came up in 2001 and hit the go-ahead homer in Game 7 of the World Series, which was erased by Arizona mounting a rare comeback off Mariano Rivera, but he became the key chip in the 2003 trade that brought Alex Rodriguez from Texas ... to play third base.

And so it went on for the Yankees at second while Jeter stayed at short.

Soriano's departure created some disarray at second base as the Yankees got close to winning more rings but couldn't quite deliver.

Enrique Wilson played there from 2001-04. He and Miguel Cairo were splitting duties when the Red Sox rallied back from an 0-3 deficit in the 2004 AL Championship Series to beat the Yankees in seven.

The Yankees had to address the second-base situation in 2005, so they signed veteran Tony Womack to a free-agent deal the winter after the '04 season. Womack wasn't the answer, but 22-year-old prospect Robinson Cano was, and on May 3 of that year, Jeter was introduced to the second baseman he'd play alongside more than any other.

Cano ended up winning a World Series title with Jeter in 2009 and also being Jeter's teammate in five All-Star Games (2006, 2010-12 and 2014) among his six Midsummer Classic appearances and Jeter's 14.

The best Jeter moment that he witnessed, Cano said, occurred at Yankee Stadium on July 9, 2011.

"I think, for me, it was his 3,000th hit," Cano said of the home run off David Price that highlighted a 5-for-5 day. "He wasn't a guy that hit a lot of homers, but he got his 3,000th with a homer. That was amazing. Especially against a guy like Price."

Cano has moved on to hit in the middle of the order and mentor a young team in Seattle. He said he learned a lot from Jeter.

"More than anything it was to play hard," Cano said. "He wanted to play every day. He never wanted to be out of the game. You just look at what he's accomplished in his career. You just had to watch him to learn things.

"He's a guy that makes every play. He's had a perfect career. He's got World Series rings, All-Star Games, everything. What else can you ask for?"

There were plenty of other names shifting in to play second during the Cano years, including Mark Bellhorn, Russ Johnson, Escalona, Cannizaro, Nick Green, Andy Phillips, Alberto Gonzalez, Wilson Betemit, Cody Ransom, Jerry Hairston Jr., Russo and Ramiro Pena. Astute Yankees fans might remember stints by Eduardo Nunez, Casey McGehee, Jayson Nix, Joseph, Mark Reynolds and David Adams. At points during games that got out of hand, second base was played, sometimes hilariously, by non-second basemen Jorge Posada, Russell Martin, Francisco Cervelli and Vernon Wells.

Jeter saw it all. Jeter took it all in. And Jeter's presence influenced many of those players, whether he realizes it or not.

"Growing up, he was a guy I admired and had a big impact on me coming up through high school, a guy I admired very much and a guy that inspired me," Nix said. "That being said, getting to be his teammate and being able to firsthand just see how he conducts himself and goes about his business, I learned a whole lot from him. And it was an honor to be his teammate and I was very fortunate for that opportunity and after all that, to call him a friend of mine. It's very special."

One of Nunez's special memories revolves around the fact that Jeter liked to joke that he didn't understand Nunez's English.

"One day while we were fielding ground balls, he called over Cano and said 'Hey, somebody come help me? I can't understand what he's saying,'" Nunez said.

McGehee didn't play second base in a game while Jeter played shortstop, but he was in the same clubhouse and on the same roster and couldn't help but notice the captain's influence ... and more.

"He is 100 percent the real deal," McGehee said. "You could tell, and it wasn't even just the bench guys, role players or young guys, but established superstars in the big leagues, how much respect they had when he said something. It was pretty impressive to watch, just the amount of respect everybody had for him.

"And I didn't realize it, but he is really funny. He has a knack of when to turn it off, and when to switch into the Captain, and when it is time to switch back into Derek. His competitiveness, and what he expects out of himself on a daily basis, is unbelievable."

When Cano left, the Yankees second-base situation was thrown into a bit of uncertainty. The 2014 season became a revolving door of sorts as Jeter played out his much-celebrated final 162-game foray.

There was Kelly Johnson, there was Dean Anna, there was Brian Roberts, there was Brendan Ryan, there was Yangervis Solarte, there was Martin Prado, and now there's Stephen Drew.

"He's such a great player, but what a great guy on top of that, a nice guy," Solarte said. "He would always talk to me, put his arm around me, 'Hey Solo, why don't you talk to me?' he would say. He was always trying to keep it loose. This was a guy I felt like I watched my whole life and then I got a chance to play next to him, and do it in his last year? Unbelievable. I'm very lucky."

Ryan said no moment is too big for Jeter, but the little moments end up being big, too.

"I like when he goes to the mound and has something to say," Ryan said. "I don't want to say it's rare, but it's definitely not every time, because then it would get watered down. But he picks his spots, as you would imagine, and he always seemed to pick the right spots.

"He never wastes words, but when he uses them, they always have meaning and hold some weight. When he's talking, you just kind of keep your mouth shut and listen to what he has to say.

"Sometimes it's just a joke, just a stupid little comment, but for whatever reason, you feel like the group is better for that comment."

It's quite possible that Drew, who has only been with the Yankees since the July 31 Trade Deadline, will be the New York second baseman in Boston on Sunday, when Jeter's career finally does come to a close.

Drew, like many of the other 52 second basemen who have played for the Yankees during this unforgettable era, seems to appreciate every inning he's gotten to play next to No. 2.

"You go 20 years in the big leagues, playing a game the way he has played it, you always hear about it, but playing consistent, doing it over and over, that's what amazes me the most," Drew said. "He's always learning. It's a calming presence and he understands, he knows what you're going through.

"Also, he has fun. It's still a kid's game to him."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.