With ankle healthy, Jeter is building strength
Yankees' captain confident he'll return to everyday role at shortstop in '14
NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter said Thursday night he has been strengthening his body and is "100 percent" sure he will return to his everyday shortstop role with the Yankees in 2014, adding that he understands the club's need to seek insurance at the position but called it "my job."
"I feel good," Jeter said at Chelsea Piers, where he attended former manager Joe Torre's 11th annual Safe at Home Foundation gala. "I've already started. I started a little bit earlier this year. I had so much time off, so I started strengthening my legs here at the beginning of November."
Moments after Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, predicted that Jeter would come back strong, Jeter nodded in agreement.
"Yes. 100 percent," he said. "I don't have any reason to think otherwise. Last year when I was commenting on it this time of year, a little later, my ankle was still recovering. Now everything's healed, ready to go, I get a chance to strengthen everything, so I see no reason why not."
A day earlier, Yankees manager general partner Hal Steinbrenner said in Florida that the club was "confident he's going to come back," but said they have natural concerns because of Jeter's age and the severity of the ankle injury that limited him to 17 games in 2013.
"My job is to get ready to play," Jeter said emphatically. "That's what my job has always been. I don't make out lineup cards. All I can do is get ready in the offseason, come there and be ready to play. My job is to play short. It's always been my job since I've come up. It's still going to be my job. I understand the concerns because of everything that went down last year. I understand that. But I'll be ready to go."
Jeter will turn 40 in June and will enter 2014 with 3,316 career hits, three away from tying Paul Molitor for ninth place on the all-time list. Can he return to the pre-injury form of 2012, when he led the Majors with 216 hits?
"Yeah, why not," Jeter said. "There's no reason why not. My job is to be healthy, there's no reason why not. I have a lot of confidence.
"The ankle's fine. I told you guys that at the end of the year. My ankle's good, it's just strengthening everything else. I've done my tests on my ankle and it's good to go. Now it's just strengthening the other body parts."
Jeter and the Yankees agreed on a one-year, $12 million contract earlier this month, representing a pay cut from the $17 million he earned last season. Jeter had held a $9.5 million player option for next season.
"It was great," he said of the signing process. "It was a couple of conversations, I think, between [agent] Casey [Close] and Hal, so I'm happy, I'm excited, I'm looking forward to getting back on the field."
The Yankees' Core Four is down to him now that Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte have joined Jorge Posada -- Thursday night's guest of honor at Torre's event -- in retirement. When asked if he feels he has anything to prove with the end seemingly near, Jeter said, "I don't think that way."
Would Jeter be amenable to a reduced schedule?
"If, if, if," he said. "I can't comment on if. You guys know me, I like to play every single day. I get the fact that some days are DH days, some days you have off. I understand that. That happened two years ago. I DH'd a lot two years ago. I don't make the lineups. My job is to be ready to play and I'll be ready."
Torre shared the red carpet with Jeter, his captain for so many years. In Torre's mind, there is no doubt that Jeter can make the same kind of turnaround that Rivera just made -- resulting in the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award on the closer's way out.
"Obviously the end is closer than the beginning," Torre said. "But he never thinks that way. Last year was the toughest year to be able to get yourself geared up to come back and then have that same issue again, it was very frustrating. But he's very special. I think he can will himself to do so.
"I watched Mariano do it the year before. I had a sense that Mariano was probably going to pack it in a year ago, but he didn't want to leave that way. He had a remarkable year and sort of enjoyed smelling the roses on the way out, too."
Torre said he had a chat with Jeter late last season and saw that Jeter had been "trying to heal and get in shape at the same time. I think that was probably difficult to have that happen. Now that the healing has been taken care of, he can concentrate on getting in shape. So I'm hopeful he'll be back. He's special. I'm a little biased in that regard. Of course he's always had an optimistic outlook on this thing, but I just have a sense that he'll be a little healthier.
"He's not going to hang around because he's Derek Jeter, he's going to have to be a contributor. I think he sort of understands that it's his body, he knows how he feels. Just because you don't play every single day, not to say it's not going to happen, but it doesn't mean you're not going to be an important part of the ballclub."
The Safe at Home Foundation was created by Torre as a result of his own experience growing up in a house with domestic violence. "Margaret's Place" now reaches kids in nine schools and two community centers in New York, New Jersey and California, started as a tribute to Torre's mother Margaret. It provides middle and high school students with a "safe room" to talk to each other and a professional counselor trained in domestic violence intervention and prevention about violence-related issues.
"We're getting the word out," Torre said. "More and more people are knowing about us. They go to joetorre.org and they can see what's current with what we're doing. We raise money, we want to reach more children, that's our goal. And also our goal is to have people who come to these dinners or anywhere I speak, to have them understand the complexity of what these kids grow up feeling like.
"I feel it's our responsibility to take care of them. Even though they don't share our last name, I feel it's important, because these kids are our future. Anything we can do to help them get through the rough times and give them tools to deal with it, I think it's our obligation to do that."