DETROIT (AP) It’s the type of anecdote that sounds like an urban legend: The New York Yankees once sent Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera down to the minors at the same time?
Jeter remembers, all right – because that demotion in 1995 came right as he was preparing to play in his home state of Michigan for the first time as a major leaguer.
”I had everything packed and ready to come to Detroit, had family and friends coming,” Jeter said. ”Then we got demoted to Triple-A.”
Nearly two decades later, Jeter was in Detroit on Tuesday, reminiscing a bit about his connection to Michigan before the Yankees played the opener of a three-game series against the Tigers. Barring a postseason matchup, this is Jeter’s final appearance in Detroit before he retires after this season. The Tigers plan to honor him before Wednesday night’s game.
Michigan has always been a special place to Jeter, who was born in New Jersey but went to Kalamazoo Central High School, about 140 miles west of Detroit.
”My dad was a big Tiger fan, he was a big Lions fan,” Jeter said. ”Because I was born in Jersey, I think I leaned towards Yankees, but I was a big University of Michigan fan. I still am today.”
In June 1995, Jeter had only a handful of games under his belt when the Yankees hosted Seattle. Jeter started at shortstop, and Rivera – the future closer – was New York’s starting pitcher. Rivera didn’t make it through the third inning, but the Yankees did win 10-7.
The team went to Detroit. Jeter and Rivera went to the minors.
”Mo gave it up that last game. He was a starter, so he gave it up. I think we won that game, and they sent me down,” Jeter recalled. ”I think I was guilty by association. They sent us down. Our bags were packed and we were going to Detroit, so there was a lot of family and friends that had to change their plans.”
Jeter, of course, would go on to play plenty of games in Detroit, and the 40-year-old shortstop is one of a dwindling number of active players who played at Tiger Stadium before Comerica Park opened in 2000.
”I liked old Tiger Stadium, because you had right field, that sort of overhung in the outfield, so you can hit balls that appeared to be outs and end up being home runs,” Jeter said. ”It was fun to play in the old Tiger Stadium because, just when I was a kid, I used to go and watch games there. It seemed like every year, wait for a Yankee game, and we’d make the trip to Detroit and go watch.”