MOOSIC – The RailRiders sure know how to mark a special occasion.
And Saturday marked the biggest event for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre baseball team this season as it welcomed rehabbing future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter to Northeastern Pennsylvania.
A sellout crowd of 10,000 at PNC Field was electric and saw the Yankees captain go 0-for-2 with a walk in three plate appearances. Defensively, he played five innings on his surgically-repaired left ankle, fielding just one grounder.
“It felt fine. I didn’t do much,” Jeter said about his ankle.
Jeter, who last visited the area in 1996 as a member of the Columbus Clippers, was treated like royalty for the outing. He will be the RailRiders designated hitter for today’s 1:05 p.m. game.
The RailRiders went all out, hanging ceremonial red, white and blue banners off the second deck and using a recording of late Yankee public address announcer Bob Sheppard to announce Jeter prior to his at-bats instead of normal PA announcer Dean Corwin doing the honors to make him feel right at home.
Jeter drew a five-pitch walk in his first at-bat, leading off the game for the RailRiders against Lehigh Valley left-hander Raul Valdes. He didn’t get a chance to run the bases in the inning, though, as the next three batters struck out.
In his second plate appearance, Jeter took a first-pitch ball before hitting a hard liner to the right side that was caught by the second baseman. His third plate appearance was similar to the second. In the bottom of the fourth, he looked at another ball to start the at-bat before hitting a hard grounder to third. He was out on the play, but showed good hustle running out of the batter’s box.
“It was maybe the only time I got a standing ovation for grounding out,” the perennial all-star said. “But it’s going to be like that getting cheered every time.”
His only assist in the infield came in the top of the fifth with two outs. He moved to his left and flipped underhanded to get a force out at second.
“Next time I go out it might be 10 groundballs,” he said. “You never know. I tested it (fielding) a little bit during batting practice.”
Jeter’s last visit to the area came during the 1995 Triple-A All-Star Game played at then-named Lackawanna County Stadium. He doesn’t recall much from that appearance when he went 1-for-3 with a run scored.
“It was 18 years ago. Once I got on the field, some things looked familiar to me but that was a long, long, time ago,” Jeter added. “I don’t remember too much. I remember it was turf and the stadium is a lot better looking now.”
He knows he has to get ready after nine months of playing competitively, but he’s chomping at the bit to get back to New York.
“It was good to get back out there. I miss playing. I miss being around my teammates,” he added. “It’s fun to be out there, but I want to be back to New York as soon as I can.”
There is no timetable for his return to the Yankees, but speculation is that he will be with the RailRiders for the rest of the team’s homestand that runs through Friday.
“I want to play. I’m ready to play, but I understand I have to play some games here. But I forward to getting back as soon as I can.”