PAWTUCKET — For PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina, seeing Derek Jeter propel himself through the rehab process this past weekend helped conjure up one pleasant memory after another.
“I hadn’t seen him in a while, but the first thing I thought of when I saw him was ‘Man, he’s a classy individual,’” DiSarcina expressed. “In my mind, he and Cal Ripken Jr. were the torchbearers. Cal handed it over to him, and not because Derek won, but it’s the way he won.
“Like I said to his face the other day, Derek was one of the guys you hated to play against, but when you’re done playing, you just love watching him play. He’s everything that’s good and pure about this game,” DiSarcina continued. “He’s been a standard bearer of the game and has done it the right way in a large market. He stayed out of trouble both on and off the field. You never hear anyone say a bad word about him."
DiSarcina doesn’t know Jeter personally, though it’s clear why the former would contain so much adoration for the latter. As an everyday shortstop for the Angels, DiSarcina would pay extra attention to his contemporary in the opposite dugout.
“I used it as a motivational tool because I wanted to play better than that shortstop that night,” DiSarcina said. “At the same time, I would pick up things from that other shortstop – what he was doing that I liked and things that he didn’t do that I liked. Whether it was Jeter, Ripken or Alan Trammell, I always watched those guys.”
Jeter officially burst on the major league scene on May 29, 1995. His first game at Yankee Stadium came four days later with DiSarcina’s Angels serving as the opponent. The box score from the Angels-Yankees contest on June 2, 1995 revealed that Jeter and DiSarcina batted ninth for their respective ballclubs.
“When he came up, he had first-step quickness and the range. He was a skinny kid, but he was young and fresh and had a ton of energy,” DiSarcina recalled. “Playing against him, I couldn’t stand him. He took hits away from us and was one of those if you hit a routine groundball to, you better make sure you make it clean and finish the play because he was going to run hard.
“He would do the little things like bunt and hit-and-run … he was a team player,” DiSarcina added. “I think the world of him now that I’m not playing against him.”
The sight of Jeter in a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre uniform for three games in Moosic, Pa. recently helped DiSarcina reinforce the sterling reputation that the New York captain has carved out.
“The body frame is still there, but he’s a bigger guy. There’s wear on his tires and he’s not as quick, but he still has the same actions,” said DiSarcina. “I think he plays the game for the right reason. Watching him for the three games, he took unbelievable secondary reads and was in the right cutoff positions and encouraging his teammates.
“I mean, he’s a Hall of Famer on a rehab assignment. Watching him do those little things just shows me that he plays the game for the right reasons. He enjoys baseball and the competition aspect,” DiSarcina went on. “For Derek to do it the way he did it on a rehab assignment proves what a special player he truly is. You saw it during batting practice and the way he interacted with his teammates and the opposition.”
DiSarcina was not around Jeter on a day-to-day basis when Jeter was climbing through the Yankees’ system. The Pawtucket skipper did get a taste of what life is like for a ballyhooed shortstop when Xander Bogaerts passed through McCoy Stadium on his way to joining the parent club.
“You can compare the outside noise that surrounded them, which I think stems from coming up in a big market and people knowing who you are,” said DiSarcina. “They follow you and are excited to see you play and to hear what the scouts and TV pundits are saying.”
Another comparison DiSarcina made between Jeter and Bogaerts is the makeup of the big-league clubhouse each happened to set foot in upon getting promoted.
“In Derek’s rookie year, he was around veterans such as Wade Boggs and Paul O’Neill. Xander is around a great group of guys too – guys who are going to take care of him,” said DiSarcina.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03