- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Derek Jeter didn’t think he would get a single hit in the big leagues.

A skinny teenager in the low minors, he would spend lonesome nights calling his parents back in Michigan, crying that he was totally overmatched at the plate. His fielding was worse _ fans behind first base would start ducking when balls bounced to him, afraid the scatter-armed shortstop would zing another throw into the seats.

From failure to the face of perhaps the most famous franchise in sports, the Kid from Kalamazoo and captain of the New York Yankees is two hits away from becoming only the 28th player in baseball history to get No. 3,000.

All in a blink of those cool, green eyes. At least it sometimes seems that way.


“It wasn’t a goal of mine. I didn’t set out for that,” Jeter said as he approached the milestone. “You set out to play. You set out to get here and you try to stay as long as you can and try to be consistent.”

Trying times lately. His frame a bit thicker and his hair a bit thinner, the hits are harder to come by. The Steroids Era never shadowed the Jeter Era, and at 37 it’s not natural for players to get better with age.

Jeter got his 2,998th career hit Thursday night, lining a double his first time up against Tampa Bay. New York has three games left at Yankee Stadium before the All-Star break, and he definitely wants to do it at home.

What’s next once he gets there? We’ll see. He could be dropped in the batting order. Maybe he gets more days off, replaced by hotshot Eduardo Nunez. A position shift? That’s possible.

Also hard to predict is where exactly Jeter winds up in the pinstriped pantheon.

He’s a five-time World Series champion, a 12-time All-Star and has gotten more hits than anyone in team history. In an age of straying free agents, he has stayed true to the Bronx.

That said, lots of ardent Jeter fans readily admit that he’s absent on the team’s Mount Rushmore. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle probably are at the top.

Still, to many of this generation, Jeter represents all that is good about the game.

He called his manager “Mr. Torre” without sounding corny. He told then-President George W. Bush to throw a ceremonial first ball from the mound and “don’t bounce it” without sounding cocky. He talked to young boys and girls from the on-deck circle without sounding phony.

He’s remained grounded, as much as anyone could while growing into a Yankees great.

Umpire crew chief Tim Welke, raised in the same hometown, recalled a game when there was a pitching change and Jeter was on second base. As the new reliever warmed up, Jeter wanted to talk sports with Welke. Not baseball, but high school football.

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