Derek Jeter’s memories of playing in Cleveland include his first major league home run, a swarm of midges and three tough playoff series against the Indians.
“I like this stadium; I’ve always liked coming here to play,” Jeter said Monday before the opener of his final regular-season series in Cleveland. “The fans have always been great.”
The New York Yankees shortstop’s first full season in the big leagues began a day late, thanks to a rare April Fool’s Day snowstorm in Cleveland in 1996.
He hit the first of his 258 homers a day later, on April 2. The 21-year-old rookie sent a 1-0 pitch from Dennis Martinez to left field in the fifth inning of the Yankees’ 7-1 win.
“It was a long time ago, but it was my first opening day,” said Jeter, who appeared in 15 games late in the 1995 season. “First opening day is pretty memorable, it’s pretty special. I was excited for that, we had gotten snowed out the day before. So I had to wait a while, seemed like I had to wait forever. I was fortunate to hit that first one here.”
The Indians plan on giving Jeter a gift before the final game of the series Thursday.
The Yankees won the World Series that season, but lost to the Indians in five games in the Division Series in 1997. New York defeated Cleveland in six games in the 1998 American League Championship on its way to another World Series title.
The Indians beat the Yankees in four games in the 2007 playoffs. That division series, though, will be best known for the bizarre occurrence in Game 2. With Joba Chamberlain on the mound in the eighth inning, a swarm of tiny bugs called midges swooped in off Lake Erie and buzzed the field. Chamberlain was completely thrown off and allowed the tying run. The Indians won in 11 innings.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Jeter said. “But it was like that for both teams. It wasn’t like they just came out when we decided to go on defense. But that was by far the oddest conditions I’ve played in.”
The Yankees always draw well in Cleveland but the talk of the town so far during this visit has centered on whether NBA star and Ohio native LeBron James will return to play for the Cavaliers. James left Cleveland following the 2010 season to join Miami and is a free agent again.
When asked if James is “coming back to us,” Jeter responded with his usual dry wit.
“Us? You mean us here? ... I have no clue.”