Count down as Jeter approaches 3,000

It did not mean anything to Tim Belcher at the time, just another routine ground ball through the hole by some rookie named Derek Jeter.

"I don’t remember him real well," Belcher said. "None of us realized he was going to be what he turned out to be."

It was May 30, 1995, and Jeter, a heralded first-round pick, had just been called up by the Yankees. But to opponents like Belcher, he was just another kid.

Belcher was a star for the Dodgers in the late 1980s, but by 1995, he had settled in as a journeyman starter, hoping for his third win of the season when he fired a split-fingered fastball to the rookie in the middle innings.

"It was a ground ball. I had struck him out once … Probably what stands out most is that I got a no-decision in the game, unfortunately," Belcher said with a laugh.

It was only years later that he realized the ground ball might have been significant. "I’m trying to think of the first time I was told I gave up his first hit. It might have been when he reached 2,000. I got an interview request or two," Belcher said.

Barring an injury or a prolonged slump, Jeter, who will turn 37 on June 26, will this month become the 28th player to reach 3,000 hits, likely sometime in the next two weeks.

He is now just shy of the milestone, a testament to a 17-year career of singles stroked into right field, doubles into the gap and occasional homers into the corners.

In the first days of spring training, Jeter said he would try to step back and enjoy the march to 3,000 in a way that he had not when setting previous milestones like the Yankee team hits record. But it has been a trying year.

He began the season poorly at the plate, hitting a meager .219 through April 20 as he fiddled with his mechanics. He jettisoned some of those adjustments in late April and improved shortly thereafter.

His average crept up in May, though often through weak contact or lucky hits. In the past few weeks, however, he has resembled the Jeter of old, lacing line drives and drawing walks atop the Yankee order. But he still is hitting far below his career average of .313.

But just as his play improved, the situation around the Yankees deteriorated. Jeter found himself defending his friend Jorge Posada, as the longtime catcher struggled to adjust to his diminished role. Jeter’s words earned the ire of the front office, and the Yankee captain found himself exactly where he most hates to be: at the center of a controversy. So no, he was not enjoying the moment, not until very recently.

"For a while, we weren’t even talking about baseball around here, so you can’t enjoy anything when you’re not talking about baseball," Jeter said. "As of late, things have been pretty positive around here, so I’m enjoying it."

— The Wall Street Journal

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