Yankees, Astros players react to being part of Derek Jeter's number retirement day
NEW YORK - More than a dozen former New York Yankees, of course including the rest of the Core Four, were at Yankee Stadium Sunday night to see Derek Jeter get his No. 2 retired.
Current Houston Astros DH Carlos Beltran, who played the first of his three seasons with the Yankees in Jeter's final year of 2014, was very close with the Captain, and he got to deliver one of Jeter's gifts, a blazer emblazoned with a Monument Park logo.
Houston, though, has two ex-Yankees on their roster, and the other was very happy to be here, too.
"When the schedule came out and they announced this, I was very happy that we were going to be here, and we would get to stand out there and watch him have this honor," said Brian McCann. "He's one of the game's greatest, and I was lucky enough to play his last season with him."
McCann has seen Jeter from a few perspectives; he's been a fellow Yankee, an opponent with the Braves, and also a Team USA teammate in the World Baseball Classic - but from all angles, The Captain may be No. 2 on the scoreboard but No. 1 in a lot of ways.
"When I was younger, with Atlanta, I got a chance to play against him in Yankee Stadium, and that was awesome," McCann said. "He had a great career, and he was one of those guys that you idolized, in the way he approached the game and succeeded in the biggest moments."
McCann and Beltran are the only current Astros who were once Yankees, and pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. has an ancillary connection, as his father Lance Sr. was a Yankee in 1989 and 1990. One other Astro has a small connection to Jeter, too: outfielder George Springer, who grew up in northern Connecticut as an admitted Red Sox fan but got to see a lot of Jeter watching that rivalry.
"I'm happy to be here today and be a part of history for him and for the Yankees organization," Springer said. "Everybody knows who he is and what he's done, and he's a polarizing figure - a guy you play against but are still star-struck by."
Springer never technically shared a field with Jeter - he was a rookie in 2014 but was injured when the Yankees and Astros played - but he has talked to Beltran and McCann about The Captain.
"They were here for his last game here, and if you had to write a book, I'm sure that's how it would end," Springer smiled. "They said that was special, and to be able to say you've played with Jeter is crazy. He's a Hall of Famer with a hell of a career, and I'm happy to be there."
On the other side, even though Jeter has only been retired since the end of 2014, more than half of the Yankees' current 25-man roster weren't in pinstripes for his final game.
Tyler Clippard is one of those, but he did get a chance to play alongside Jeter in 2007, when he came up to make his major-league debut and pitched
"It's special, man; I mean, just watching him play, being in the same clubhouse with him for that short time in 2007, it was special," Clippard said. "He's a first ballot Hall of Famer and a guy who went about the game the right way, so to be here today is fun."
Clippard spent 2008-14 with Washington so he only faced Jeter once, but it's an at-bat he'll never forget.
"I struck him out," Clippard beamed. "He probably doesn't even remember it, but for me that's awesome. It was cool just to say I faced him regardless of what happened."
One other Yankee who wasn't in New York in 2014 has a bit of a connection to Jeter: second baseman Starlin Castro, who was a Chicago Cub then. Castro played shortstop at the time, and when the Yankees visited Wrigley Field that season, it was Castro who got to go out on the field to give The Captain his parting gift: a No. 2 from the manual scoreboard at Wrigley.
"Obviously I didn't know then that I would be coming here at the time, but I think it was really special for me to do that," Castro said. "I think it's pretty awesome, and I'm thankful for the Cubs for choosing me to do that. It's a moment I'll never forget."
It was something of an idol moment for Castro, who saw a lot of Jeter while growing up in the Dominican Republic.
"He's really big there. Every kid growing up in my time always followed Jeter," Castro said. "Back in the Dominican, we got the Yankees all the time on TV, and he was one of my favorites growing up.
And, while you could ask one of the handful of current Yankees who spent at least a full year playing with Jeter, we'll wrap this remembrance up with Chase Headley, who was acquired from San Diego in July 2014 and got to spend the final two months of The Captain's career right next to him at third base.
"It was one of the highlights of my career to play with him, even for just a couple months," Headley said, "and I think one of the things I took from him was just how much fun he had playing the game. There are times where you're trying to do your job and you're really pushing so hard that you forget it's supposed to be fun; watching him the last couple months, I could see that he really still thought it was fun, and I try to tell myself now, even when things are going rough, to still enjoy the game."