Since 2008, Brett Gardner had a front row seat watching Derek Jeter‘s historical and famed career. He hasn’t known Jeter as long as Jeter’s closest friends Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte or Jorge Posada have, but Gardner has known Jeter long enough to know wearing the pinstripes is special, and its something every player who gets the chance to wear them should take pride in.
Gardner recalled the first time he ever met Derek Jeter back in 2006, when he was in the minor leagues and Jeter was with the ball club. Gardner had been trying to find his way around the Spring Training complex when he bumped into Jeter, laying eyes on a baseball legend in the making.
“Hey, I’m Derek.” Were the first words Jeter said to Gardner as they made introductions. Overtime Gardner and Jeter became teammates and friends, but Gardner spent majority of the their time as teammates observing Jeter and it showed when Jeter was out for most of the 2013 season with an ankle injury.
The Yankees were in the midst of a five game skid in mid-June as they headed out to the West Coast. Their Captain was on the disabled list and the Yankees looked defeated without their leader in the clubhouse. Before the 2013 season, Gardner was relatively quiet; he spoke when needed and did his job on the field with no questions asked. But without Jeter to tell the media what the Yankees had to do next, Gardner took matters into his own hands and told the media wise words Jeter once told his teammates.
“One thing I really learned from Jeet over the years. He’s not here right now, but he’s been so good at being able to turn the page. Doesn’t matter if you’re 0-for-5 or 5-for-5, or if we win or lose, we’ve got a game tomorrow. As soon as we walk out here tonight, we’ve got to focus on getting ready to play tomorrow.”
Ever since that evening, Gardner had become more vocal in the clubhouse and showed he had a fiery personality–he was the first one to storm out of the dugout after Ryan Dempster hit Alex Rodriguez later that summer. When interviewed, Gardner made sure he went back to the wise words of Jeter, always remembering what the Captain had told his team. Not only did Gardner learn how to be a better teammate and player from Jeter, but he also learned how to be a leader in his own right.
Fast forward to this morning, with Gardner holding court by his locker next to Jeter’s. As Gardner answers questions about the 2014 season and of his friends’ upcoming retirement, Jeter comes in for another day of work. With seeing Gardner for the first time in a while, he walks over to him, shakes his hand and asks him, “How do you feel about going to left.” right after Gardner received a question about Jacoby Ellsbury being in center field.
A reporter asks Gardner about the possibility of being traded after the Yankees acquired Jacoby Ellsbury with Jeter chiming in,”You’re getting traded now?”That’s when the playful banter war was on. Gardner asked Jeter about if his Facebook profile was fake, and Jeter playfully responded, “‘I’d say something back to you but I don’t want to embarrass you.”
Many players idolize Jeter and most of them develop a relationship with him, whether it be a personal or a working one. But Jeter was more than just a teammate to Gardner. Gardner was the student, and Jeter was the master–and just from observation, Gardner learned from Jeter what it means to be a New York Yankee.