Jeter: 'Butterflies' at final home opener
Strong emotions for Yankees' longtime captain before historic event
NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter was relaxed and reflective before his final home opener at Yankee Stadium.
"This is a big deal here in New York," he said. "Us as players, it's something we look forward to. You feel like the season doesn't officially start until we have our home opener."
Now about those fans.
They can be tough on the Yankees. For one thing, they hold them accountable. For another, they have just one bottom line -- winning a World Series.
For Jeter, though, it has been a 20-year love affair. He's the guy who did every single thing right from the beginning, representing the franchise better than arguably anyone ever.
Jeter's arrival ushered in an era when the Yanks would win the World Series five times between 1996 -- Jeter's first full season -- and 2009.
In Jeter's 20 seasons, the Yankees have missed the playoffs just twice, including last season when he played just 17 games.
"They've pretty much seen me grow up," he said. "I've been here since I was 20 years [old]. One thing about Yankee fans is they watch every game."
Jeter's persona has always been that he was the coolest of customers, never rattled, never overwhelmed by the moment.
"I've been pretty good at controlling my emotions," Jeter said. "I just hide it. You're human. Everyone's human. Everyone has emotions. Everyone has feelings, especially here where we've played in so many big games, so many special games throughout the course of my career. I'll be nervous, I'll have butterflies before this game starts. I do that all the time. I've just been pretty good at not showing my emotions and not get too high and not get too low.
"But yeah, you have feelings. There's a lot of wild moments playing here in New York. For me, I just always felt it was easier to play if I tried to control my emotions."
Jeter was asked about Joe Torre's story about warning him not to let winning a championship in his first full season distract him from the hard work required to have a great career.
"Don't worry, I'll be fine," Torre remembered Jeter saying. He was all of 22 at the time.
"Well, the part of the story you're missing is that I told him the same thing," he said. "'We won a championship; great year managing, don't screw it up.'"
During his pregame news conference, Jeter touched on an assortment of other topics, including:
How playing for George Steinbrenner shaped his attitude: "I came up in a culture where you were never promised a job. We had to perform in order to keep our job. That was the mindset we had going into every season. If you didn't do your job, The Boss would get rid of you. So every Spring Training, every offseason, I trained and prepared for the opportunity to win a job. I've done that every year. I never take anything for granted. You only get an opportunity to do this for a short time in life, and you need to make the most of it. I tried to make the most out of it."
On the Yankees experience: "Our expectation level every year is to win. It's been that way since my second year. We snuck up on some people in '96, but after we won in '96, our expectation level has been to win a championship every year. This year is no different from any other. When people come here from other organizations or come up, they know there's an expectation. It's all about winning. If you don't get it, you get it quickly. You're told quickly. Which may be different from some other organizations. I don't know because I haven't played for any other organization. For us here, the ultimate goal is to win a championship. It's not to win a division or get to the playoffs or get to the World Series. It's to win a World Series. That's probably the biggest change."
On Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte participating in Monday's pregame ceremony: "Those guys are like brothers to me. I think it'll be a special moment, especially for a lot of the fans that grew up watching all four of us play, to see us all together once again."
On Pettitte's statement that Jeter might not enjoy the attention that comes with a final-season victory lap: "Their perception is wrong. I will enjoy it. Every city I go to, every game I play, I will enjoy it. How they think I feel, they're wrong on that one. But at the same time, I get the fact that I have to play a game, I have to play a season. I think not enjoying it is the wrong way to put it. It's balancing it."
On Rivera's final season giving him insight into what his own would be like: "It's completely different. Mo's a closer. I'm a position player. I have to do things in order to get ready to play. I know Mo appreciated it. I think he enjoyed it.
"I don't know what it's going to be like. I really don't. But I still have a job to do. My job is to get ready to play every day. That's what comes first. I know I said I'm going to try to enjoy it. I'm going to try to enjoy each day. Have fun. At the same time, there's a balancing, and the No. 1 priority is to get ready to play. I don't know how I'm going to react. I don't know how I'm going to feel. But my priorities have been straight since I got here, and they're not going to change."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.