As he prepares for what will be his final Opening Day as an active player, the Yankees captain still vividly remembers the first time that he saw his name in the lineup for a season opener -- April 2, 1996, against the Indians in Cleveland.
Jeter recently joined MLB.com to reflect on that early milepost of his career, flashing back to the beginning of a 1996 season that would end with him rolling through the Canyon of Heroes, and glancing ahead to see what is in store for this last tour through the league.
MLB.com: When you hear people talking about Opening Day, what does that mean to you? What does it make you think of?
Derek Jeter: New beginnings. That's what it means. It's an opportunity to start a new season. I've always enjoyed Opening Days, whether it's Little League, high school, Minor Leagues, Major Leagues. I think it's something every player looks forward to.
MLB.com: Do you still feel the same excitement?
Jeter: Yeah, 100 percent. You get butterflies, you get nervous. But I think that's a good thing.
MLB.com: Let's roll the clock back. What do you remember about that first one, Opening Day 1996 in Cleveland?
Jeter: That we got snowed out the first day [on April 1], and then I hit my first home run. I played pretty good, you know? It's an Opening Day that I always remember. You're always going to remember your first Opening Day, so that was a special one.
MLB.com: You also made a nice catch on an Omar Vizquel popup; David Cone later called that game your "coming-out party." Was that kind of the beginning of it all for you?
Jeter: It was the start, because it was Opening Day, but I think beginnings are more than one particular game. You want to play well, especially because it's your first Opening Day. Being young at the time, I know there were a lot of question marks going into that season. I thought it was important to start off well.
MLB.com: There had been a lot of talk that spring about how George Steinbrenner wasn't sure you were ready to be the everyday shortstop. How much of that filtered down to you?
Jeter: You know how the media works. It's kind of hard not to be aware of it, because you're asked questions about it. I don't remember exactly what was asked of me, but I know I didn't particularly play well in Spring Training. I know I was asked questions about it, so yeah, I was aware of it. And then Tony [Fernandez] broke his arm the last week, and after that, they pretty much had no choice.
MLB.com: Were you nervous about making the team?
Jeter: I wouldn't say nervous. I didn't think about it. I just thought about coming here and trying to be ready for a season. So I don't know if I was necessarily coming in here every day looking to see if I was getting called into the office. That wasn't the case. But I never felt as though it was just my job. I thought it was a job I had to win.
MLB.com: You're 21 years old and the Opening Day shortstop for the New York Yankees. What did that make you feel like?
Jeter: (laughing) Nervous.
MLB.com: So you were nervous that day?
Jeter: Of course. Extremely. And then we got snowed out, so the nerves carried over for a couple of days. I was extremely nervous. That's probably the biggest thing: you get all prepared to play this game, and you wake up and there's snow everywhere. It took a little while to get there.
MLB.com: That must have been disappointing.
Jeter: Oh, yeah. That's something that you really look forward to. Even now, if it's Opening Day and you look outside and it's snowing, you're going to be disappointed. Opening Day is something that, like I said, everyone looks forward to, because it's a new beginning. At the same time, you're sort of happy when it's over, because then you get into the routine of playing every day.
MLB.com: Is that your favorite Opening Day?
Jeter: I don't know if you could say favorite, because then you've got the first Opening Day in Yankee Stadium. It was snowing that day, too. I think a combination, maybe, of the two. Your first one is your first, and it's always going to be special. But the first Yankee Stadium opener was kind of a cool experience. I don't know if you could really just rank one particular Opening Day as being the most special. The first time you do something, you're always going to remember it a little bit more. Cleveland and the first one in New York probably are the ones that stand out the most.
MLB.com: That brings us to this one; obviously your last one. What do you think that will be like for you, April 1 in Houston, and then the home opener in New York?
Jeter: I don't know. I really don't know. I'll answer it afterwards, but I don't know. I'm looking forward to it. I can't even attempt to answer that one.
MLB.com: Do you think you're looking forward to it more because it's the last one or because of the way last year went for you?
Jeter: Oh, I'm not thinking about last year. Honestly, right now, I'm just looking forward to it, because it means we'll get the season started. That's what I'm thinking about. But I can answer that afterwards; I can't, really, look in the future and say what I'm going to be feeling.
I'm looking forward to getting the season started. We're almost there. Getting there. It's pretty close.