As Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon spoke to the media before Thursday's game, the skipper watched clips of a young Derek Jeter on the jumbo scoreboard in center field. As he viewed Jeter swing the bat in the video from nearly 20 years ago, he commented on how Jeter finishes his swing the same way now as he did then.
"The really good guys, pretty much look the same out of high school, whatever 15 years later," Maddon said. "That's pretty cool."
Maddon spoke highly of Jeter as the Yankees shortstop approaches 3,000 hits before Thursday's game as his team opened a four-game set against the Yankees. It's more than likely Jeter will reach the plateau against the Rays.
"He's a classy professional. He plays the game properly, always been impressed with how hard he runs to first base," Maddon said. "That always stood out to me. I've even seen him hurt with leg injuries, but for that 90 feet he would put it together and run hard to first base. I really appreciate that about a major league baseball player as much as anything, a position player, that guy chooses to run hard to first base all the time. That really impresses me."
Maddon also complimented Jeter on being a clutch hitter, saying that Jeter is a guy a team never wants to face in a big spot, as he is willing to go the other way with pitches or just continue to foul off pitches to stay alive. The manager also added that Jeter made the running jump throw to his right as well as anybody he's seen.
"Great baseball player but he did it in a way that really set him apart. The fact that he's the captain of this team says a lot too," Maddon said. "I've always been a big fan. If anybody deserved to do the 3,000 hit thing first with the Yankees it would be him. Not knowing the Babe (Ruth) personally or Lou (Gehrig). I still think he probably epitomizes what it's like to be a Yankee."
If Jeter gets his 3,000th hit against the Rays, it will be another memorable game between the two teams. Maddon remembered how the Rays have faced the Yankees on Old Timer's Day and played the Yankees on the night of the unveiling of the George Steinbrenner mural last season. Maddon didn't differentiate the potential 3,000-hit game from the other contests.
"I don't think it's anything more grand," Maddon said. "It's another significant event in the history of this franchise. It's going to be just as crazy as it always is."