KANSAS CITY -- Visiting Kauffman Stadium for the final time as a player, Derek Jeter recalled the time a slightly stooped but always smiling old man walked up and said hello.
Negro Leagues legend Buck O'Neil was full of compliments for the rookie shortstop in 1996, and created a memory that still remains vivid in the final months of Jeter's illustrious 18-year career.
New York Yankees
"He made his way over, he had some kind things to say," Jeter recalled, before the opener of a four-game series against the Royals. "That was big for me. That's one of the best memories I have of Kansas City."
O'Neil, who helped found the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City and became one of the game's most beloved goodwill ambassadors, died in 2006 at the age of 94. Although Kansas City is where Jeter hit his first inside-the-park home run, not even that exciting moment displaces meeting O'Neil.
"He was saying he enjoyed watching me play and that he was paying attention," Jeter said. "That caught me off=guard and after that, I was so excited and proud I don't think I paid attention to anything he said. He invited me over to the museum here. I had an opportunity to go a few years after he passed away. Every time I saw him he always went out of his way to say hello and say some nice things. He was a fun person to be around."
Jeter will be honored here on Monday, before the series finale.
Don't sit me down: Recalling his first meeting with O'Neil brought a smile to Jeter's face, but not being in the lineup brought a frown. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he left out Jeter because he had played seven games in a row.
"It's just a day off," Girardi said.
Nevertheless, Jeter was not happy. "I never feel like I need a day [off]," Jeter said. "I don't like to sit out. Seven games is a week. I always played every day. I always want to play every day. It's his decision but no, I never feel like I need a day."
Leading off: There's another different look to the Yankees lineup, with center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury leading off and Brett Gardner batting second.
"He's been a leadoff hitter most of his career," Girardi said of Ellsbury, who takes a 10-game hitting streak into Friday's game. "So we just put him back there. Without [Jeter] in the lineup we changed it up a little bit. Just something we're looking at."
Girardi may even alternate leadoff hitters during this 10-game trip to Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland.
"Gardy's been so good (leading off) as well," Girardi said. "I think at some point during this trip I think I'll give Gardy a day off, I'll give Ells probably a day off, one day Gardy will lead off, one day Ells will lead off."