Derek Jeter cheerily posed with four student leaders from his Turn 2 Foundation who were wearing Yankees jerseys and elf hats and asked a question to the group of photographers snapping away.
”Who’s going to blow up this photo?” he quipped.
Looking trim in a form-fitting shirt and wearing a protective boot on his surgically repaired left ankle, Jeter was in a jovial mood Wednesday night as he returned to the Bronx to surprise more than 500 children from New York City at his foundation’s holiday party. It was his first public appearance at Yankee Stadium since that operation in late October, and he used the opportunity to joke about a photo published last week in a New York tabloid that made him appear overweight.
Jeter broke his ankle lunging for a grounder in Game 1 of the AL championship series against Detroit on Oct. 13. He had surgery a week later and the Yankees said recovery time would be four to five months.
The 38-year-old Yankees captain insists he’s on a path that will allow him to be New York’s shortstop on opening day, April 1.
”I feel good. It was a tough first five, six weeks where you sit on your couch with your feet elevated but now I feel as though I’m moving around pretty good,” he said. ”I think I’m right where I need to be.”
One thing Jeter wasn’t doing while resting was paying close attention to the offseason rumors about free agents and potential trades. That’s not his style. Still, he was sad to see infielder Eric Chavez agree to a deal with Arizona earlier Wednesday and catcher Russell Martin leave for Pittsburgh.
”I check the name tags when we get into spring training,” Jeter said about discovering who his new teammates will be.
He does know that with Alex Rodriguez out until possibly early summer because he needs left hip surgery ”other guys are going to have to step up.”
”You can’t sit around and hang your head. You have to move forward,” Jeter said.
Jeter wasn’t aware that A-Rod expressed discomfort in his right hip during the playoffs. He said he was dealing with his own pain.
An All-Star for the 13th time in 2012, Jeter had a resurgent season. He led the American League with 216 hits and batted .316 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs. He first injured his ankle in mid-September and then fouled balls off his foot several times after that. But he wanted to play.
”It was sore. You don’t really talk about it. You play or you don’t play. I felt as if I can play on it. I played on it for some time,” he said. ”I guess I pushed it a little too much.”
In the holiday spirit with his foundation – it has doled out more than $16 million in grants since 1996 to organizations that help steer young people away from alcohol and drugs – one thing Jeter didn’t need to do was dress as Santa Claus for the event.
”The (New York) Post put me into a Santa suit a few days ago,” he said.