DETROIT — Derek Jeter was excited. His suitcase was packed and his family and friends were making preparations for what they all expected would be a memorable trip back to his home state.
It was June 11, 1995, and Jeter, recently called up to the major leagues, had collected his 11th hit that day while batting ninth for the New York Yankees against the Seattle Mariners. Batting ninth for Seattle was Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees’ starting pitcher was Mariano Rivera, who was also in his first few months in the big leagues.
Rivera had a bad game, allowing five runs, and was lifted in the third inning. After the game, Rivera and Jeter were demoted, ruining plans for Jeter’s family to see him the next day in Detroit where Jeter would play in Michigan for the first time since graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School in 1992.
“Mo gave it up and they sent me down,” Jeter recalled. “I think it was guilt by association. The bags were packed and we were ready to go, so there were a lot of family and friends that had to change their plans.”
On Tuesday, 19 years later, Jeter came to Detroit for his final regular-season series here. Before the opener — which the Tigers won, 5-2 — Jeter spoke to reporters about topics as varied as growing up nearby and his plans after the season.
“I don’t want to make plans,” he said. “That’s the key. I’ve been on a schedule pretty much my entire life, so when we get into the summer for me, I don’t want to make plans. I want the freedom to move around and do what I’d like to do.”
Jeter was asked whether he might try some extreme activities like hang gliding. “I don’t think I’m going to flirt with death,” he said with a laugh.
Born in Pequannock, New Jersey, on June 26, 1974, Jeter and his family moved to Kalamazoo, 140 miles west of the old Tiger Stadium, four years later. That made him a full-blooded Michigander — at least in his view and the eyes of so many people here who grudgingly respect Jeter but have taunted him as well over the years.
“I’ve heard, ‘Sellout,’ and ‘You should be playing for the Tigers,’” he said. “It wasn’t my choice. I was drafted by the Yankees. But the fans have always been respectful.”
Jeter also discussed his infatuation with the University of Michigan and its sports teams, which he said began during his recruiting visit. He went to a football game and stood on the field close to the action in the Big House. Later, he said, some Michigan players took him on a tour of Ann Arbor.
“I saw a couple of parties,” he said, “so I was sold on the campus at the University of Michigan.”
His mother wanted him to attend Notre Dame, and the Yankees, who drafted him in the spring of his senior year in 1992, wanted him to stick to baseball. Even though Jeter signed with the Yankees and lost his college eligibility, he still attended one semester in Ann Arbor in the fall of ’92. The next year, though, the Yankees asked him to go to the Instructional League, so that was it for higher education.
“I think I made the right choice,” Jeter said with a straight face. But one day he might go back to college.
“You saw that movie ‘Back to School’ with Rodney Dangerfield?” he said. “That would be me right there.”
The big difference, of course, is that wherever he goes — even Detroit — Jeter gets respect.