NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter was zipping up his travel bag at his locker and preparing to take one of the final road trips of his career when he was asked whether he thought Troy Tulowitzki would make the kind of ideal successor to the New York Yankees shortstop that Tulowitzki fancies himself to be.
Jeter acted like he'd just been served a subpoena.
"I don't know about all that," he said, recoiling from the question. "That's tampering or something. Don't get me involved in any tampering."
Tulowitzki happens to wear No. 2 in Jeter's honor. Tulowitzki also happens to play shortstop for the last-place Colorado Rockies, who happened to be hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday while their injured star was sitting nine rows behind home plate inside Yankee Stadium -- one day after those Colorado Rockies misspelled Tulowitzki's name (they forgot the "T" between the "I" and the "Z") on 15,000 jerseys in a giveaway promotion at Coors Field, of course.
Tulowitzki has made it fairly clear he wants to play Jeter's position, in Jeter's house, in 2015, and by taking in Blue Jays 5, Yankees 4 among 45,062 fellow fans, he all but rented a plane and put it in writing across the Bronx sky.
"Wow," one baseball official said when notified Tulo was in the crowd for Paul O'Neill's bobblehead day. "It's not many times when someone in the stands is better than what is on the field for both teams."
Stadium security guards prevented reporters from approaching Tulowitzki during the game. He later told the Denver Post that his motives were pure, that he'd been in the Philadelphia area visiting a surgeon, William Meyers, for an evaluation of his left hip-flexor strain.
"It's a short drive from Philly," he told the newspaper. "I'm with my family. I wanted to see Jeter play one more time."
But really, Tulowitzki should've known better. He should've known he'd come across looking a lot more like Alex Rodriguez than Derek Jeter.
Everyone around baseball knows Tulowitzki respects Jeter above all peers -- "He once bought my cologne for all his teammates," the Yankees captain said -- and would love nothing more than to find himself on the fortuitous end of an offseason trade that allows him to earn the final $118 million guaranteed on his deal in pinstripes.
Tulowitzki said so himself at the All-Star Game, where he was reminded the Yankees would be in the market for a shortstop worthy of replacing Jeter.
"No doubt -- I think everybody knows that," he said. "Everybody wants that perfect story, whoever it may be. Whether it's me or somebody else who took over for Derek, no doubt, it makes for a great story. But for right now, it's just talk until it gets closer to happening in the offseason."
It just got closer to happening, and we're still a few months away from the offseason. Out of left field, while his teammates were preparing to face Pittsburgh, Tulowitzki was spotted by a YES Network camera sitting behind the plate, in Legends seats on the third-base side. He was wearing a light blue Arrested Development t-shirt that read, "There's always money in the banana stand."
There's always money in the Bronx, too.
The Yankees aren't just replacing Jeter full time next year with the likes of Brendan Ryan, so Tulowitzki makes sense on all sorts of levels. He's 29. He's a monster at the plate. He's tired of losing. And he's a Dan Marino fan who doesn't want Marino's postseason résumé -- a one-and-done trip to the big game in the early hours of his career.
Tulowitzki lost the World Series in his rookie season; Marino lost his only Super Bowl in Year 2. The shortstop is under contract with Colorado through 2021, and he's afraid of being stuck in mile-high loserville for the balance of his prime.
So he figured he'd go catch a couple of playoff contenders between doctor's appointments. Tulowitzki had to know how this look-at-me stunt would play, and beyond that, he had to know Jeter would've never showed at another man's ballpark while his own team was scheduled to play.
But just in case, Jeter was asked if he'd ever done what Tulowitzki did Sunday.
"What do you think?" he shot back.
Jeter said he was too focused on Toronto and the game to notice his would-be heir in the stands, sitting two seats to the left of a guy in a faded Mickey Mantle jersey. Later, in a quiet moment at his locker, Jeter said he took a photo with Tulowitzki's son at the All-Star Game and thanked the Colorado star for picking his Turn 2 Foundation as a charity to receive Home Run Derby proceeds.
Jeter said he wished Tulowitzki luck in Minneapolis, told him to stay healthy and told him he was pulling for him.
"It makes you feel good," Jeter said of Tulowitzki and others wearing his No. 2. "It's kind of hard when you're in this situation because to me, it still feels like I'm young and doing the same things I've done before. When guys say they wear numbers because of you, it makes you think that you've done something right."
Few Yankees have ever done it right quite like Jeter.
"If that's what he came to do on an off-day, then I appreciate it," Jeter said of Tulowitzki's pilgrimage, "I appreciate someone of his talent coming by to see me one last time."
Only this wasn't Joe Torre stopping by for a last look at the face of his Yankee dynasty; Torre was up in Cooperstown talking about Jeter's famous flip play -- and swearing his team practiced it -- during his Hall of Fame induction speech.
This was another shortstop paying his respects -- but getting the lay of the land at the same time. This was a big-time athlete causing an unnecessary, big-time stir.
This was Troy Tulowitzki, Derek Jeter fan, ripping a page out of the Alex Rodriguez playbook.