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Jeter Fits Right in as a Big Star in Big Apple

NEWSDAY

Two Sunday nights ago at Shea Stadium, Derek Sanderson Jeter came out of the visitor’s dugout to stretch before the finale of the Subway Series against the New York Mets. The reaction wasn’t typical for a baseball player, even a bona fide star. It was more like that of a movie or music star. Girls and young women reached new decibels with just his appearance.

“It’s overwhelming,” Yankee shortstop Jeter said. “All the fans, and the way they respond to me.

“But I think you never sit down and say, ‘I’m a star.’ I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think I’m any different than anyone else. I just have a different job. I just happen to have the best job in the world.”

Jeter, who turned 24 last week, is clearly approaching superstar status on the field--and off it. All you had to do was pick up any tabloid this past spring and see all the headlines linking Jeter and pop diva Mariah Carey in a high-profile romance.

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In 1997, People magazine named Jeter one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world. He also has appeared on MTV and “Seinfeld.”

But Jeter is more than just another pretty face in a tight nylon uniform, not a ‘90s version of Lee Mazzilli. That’s why Jeter played in his first All-Star game Tuesday night at Coors Field in Denver. Jeter was picked as a reserve by Cleveland Indian Manager Mike Hargrove.

“I’m really excited,” said Jeter, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Michigan. “Everyone dreams about playing in the All-Star game.”

Those who have watched Jeter play the past 2 1/2 seasons in the Bronx would say this is just the first of many to come. Many fashion him as a Cal Ripken type, the kind of player you expect to pencil in the lineup just about every game without even thinking about it.

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Not only is Jeter both young and good--he plays the field and handles the bat well--but he’s remarkably poised and professional. His skill is matched only by his desire to be even better the next day and the day after that.

Jeter, who won the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year Award, says he still can improve in every aspect of his game. “You can be happy,” said Jeter, who entered this season with a .300 lifetime batting average and began second-half play Thursday night with a .316 average, 10 home runs, 43 RBI, 62 runs scored, 15 steals in 17 attempts and only three errors. “But once you’re content with how you’re playing, you’re never going to improve.”

It’s not as if Jeter needs motivation to be the best there is at his position. But he happens to be playing in an era that currently features three potential Hall of Fame shortstops plying their trade in the American League. Jeter has to share the spotlight with Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra and Seattle’s Alex Rodriguez. For New York fans, it brings back the memories of that legendary baseball debate: Who was the best, Willie, Mickey or the Duke? In the ‘50s, all three played center field in the Big Apple: Willie Mays with the New York Giants, Mickey Mantle with the Yankees and Duke Snider with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Jeter’s full-fledged stardom might already have arrived if it weren’t for Garciaparra and Rodriguez. They will be linked and compared for years to come.

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“There is always going to be a debate about who’s the best,” Yankee designated hitter Darryl Strawberry said. “All of them play the game the way it should be played. They play hard. They hustle all the time and they play to win. It’s a special time to have shortstops for the next decade in the American League at the top of what they do.”

Added first baseman Tino Martinez: “All three of those guys have set the standard for shortstops as far as all-around players. They are probably three of the best defensive shortstops in the league. They are also probably three of the top offensive players in the league as well. It’ll be at least 10 years before people start to realize what they saw. And maybe then they’ll appreciate it.”

Some players without a lot of self-confidence run away from comparisons because they don’t want to have to live up to the expectations of others. Jeter invites them.

“That’s good for the sport and good for you as an individual player,” said Jeter, who in 1996 became the first rookie in 34 years to start at shortstop for the Yankees. “You are going to look at what those other guys are doing and you’re going to want to improve, get better.

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“You’ll be looking over your shoulder, not like you’re in front of someone, but looking over your shoulder seeing how they are doing. That inspires you to do better yourself.”

But that doesn’t mean Jeter wants to be Garciaparra or Rodriguez, both of whom have signed multimillion-dollar long-term contracts. For sure, Jeter’s is just around the corner. He earns $750,000 this season.

“Alex is going to hit more home runs than the rest of us,” said Jeter, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 195 pounds. “He has the most power.


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