New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said his final visit to Camden Yards this week brought back memories of his first full season in pinstripes. That year, he played against the Orioles in the American League Championship Series and he was in awe of Cal Ripken, Jr., whom Jeter still regards as a role model.
"I was sort of thrust right into it," Jeter said before his final regular-season game at Camden Yards on Sunday night. "Baltimore had great teams. I remember coming here in 1996 in my first full season. We're playing in the playoffs, and Cal is on the other side. … It was exciting, I was nervous. … Those are the memories that I'll share with people about playing at Camden Yards, playing here and playing against those great teams."
Jeter credited Ripken for changing the way shortstops were seen, adding that he often was told that he didn't fit the traditional size of shortstops growing up because he was too tall. But Ripken changed that perception.
"I just remember that when I was younger, not even necessarily professionally, but growing up playing shortstop and being tall, and people saying shortstops aren't tall," Jeter said. "Your first line of defense is Cal Ripken, and then everyone shut up. He set the standard."
Now Jeter is on the final legs of a farewell tour, much like Ripken in his final season in 2001. He has received gifts along every stop, from cowboy boots (Texas Rangers and Houston Astros) to paddleboards (Los Angeles Angels). When the Yankees honored Jeter at Yankee Stadium this month, Ripken attended the ceremony.
Before Sunday night's game, Jeter was presented with several gifts from the Orioles. The Yankees' captain received an official U.S. Navy captain's hat, presented by U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Vic Mercado. The Orioles' gift to Jeter also included a bushel of jumbo steamed crabs, delivered by former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell, and a custom oversized crab mallet made of ash and a cake in the shape of his No. 2 made by local dessert maker Sugar Bakers of Catonsville.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter and right fielder Nick Markakis also presented Jeter with a $10,000 donation in his name to the Miracle League of Manasota, which is located between Jeter's residence in Tampa, Fla., and the club's spring training home in Sarasota.
Before the presentation, Showalter reiterated that he suggested last month that the club should give Jeter a photo of his 1996 American League Championship Series Game 1 home run — the "Jeffrey Maier" homer — signed by the team.
"I would have blown it up," Showalter said. "I think he would have enjoyed it. I would have had Tony Tarasco come out and hand him the picture. … That's how we think of him. We're real excited he's retiring. …I've been fortunate to see enough of these. It tells you all you need. It's a compliment that you don't know what to get him. …When you think of him, you think of championship rings. I think of winning."
Jeter took the suggestion in stride.
"I've already reaped the benefits of it, so I don't need a poster," Jeter said about the home run. "I have other reminders of it. It would be funny."
Jeter also credited Showalter, who was his first major league manager in 1995, for allowing him to remain with the Yankees during the playoffs, which Jeter said gave him valuable experience the following season.
"They very well could have sent me home or sent me down to Tampa to be one of his just-in-case guys," Jeter said. "But Buck kept me around and allowed me to see what the postseason atmosphere was like, which I think helped me the following year going into the playoffs. I know I didn't get the chance to play, but I got the chance to feel what the atmosphere was like, and I owe him for that. …
"I think for him to give me the opportunity, I think I was more nervous watching the playoff in '95 than I was playing in '96, a lot of that is a credit to him."
Jeter has played well in his career at Camden Yards, hitting .311/.383/.457 in 139 career games heading into Sunday. His 15 home runs and 82 RBIs at Camden Yards are his most at any opposing park.
"It's been fun," Jeter said. "It's been fun to play here. It's a great baseball town. There are a lot of Orioles fans. I just love the stadium. I love the playing surface, I love the atmosphere. Ever since I first came up, it was always pretty electric here in this stadium. …
"I've enjoyed playing here. We've had some success. We've had our share of failures as well. But it's always been fun. This is a place I've looked forward to playing."