Commentary

Recalling Derek Jeter's first MLB hit

It was a humble beginning for the kid from Kalamazoo, but you gotta start somewhere

Updated: July 10, 2011, 4:34 PM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

Tino Martinez had a front-row seat for Derek Jeter's first hit.

Martinez remembers Jeter, then a tall, lanky 20-year-old, ripping a single through the left side of the artificial-turf infield in Seattle's dingy, doomed Kingdome.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
AP Photo/Gary StewartThe day before his first hit, a rookie Derek Jeter stretches in the Kingdome.

He remembers Jeter's unassuming reaction to hit No. 1.

Martinez also remembers the first words he told the future captain of the Yankees.

"Congratulations," Martinez, then a first baseman for the Seattle Mariners, told Jeter as he stood next to him at first. "I hope you get many more."

Of course, Jeter's first hit -- a fifth-inning single on a Tim Belcher spilt-fingered fastball on May 30, 1995 -- was the first of many.

Sixteen years later, as Jeter celebrates his 3,000th hit, many close to Jeter remember his first as a milestone in its own right.

Buck Showalter was in the Yankees' dugout that day, having written Jeter's name in to the No. 9 spot in his lineup card. The manager remembers Jeter coming back to the dugout after his first hit and, Jeter being Jeter, he had an understated reaction to the whole thing.

"He got the ball, but it wasn't a lot of pomp and circumstance on his side," Showalter said. "It was, 'Well, that's my job -- to get a hit. When do I get my next opportunity to get another one?'"

Jeter was well-known for that steady, even approach -- "the right kind of calm," Showalter called it.

But it wasn't always easy for Jeter on his way up.

Mark Newman, vice president of baseball operations for the Yankees, was in his Tampa home on the night of May 30.

He said Jeter's first knock was "significant" for every Yankees staffer who'd helped Jeter along the way.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an organization to raise a future Hall of Famer. And, Newman says, Jeter was no different.

Then a coordinator for instruction, Newman helped develop and implement training programs for Yankees minor leaguers.

In Jeter's case, that meant extensive defensive drills and working with him to balance his swing. Newman also helped Jeter work through some of the emotional issues faced by an 18-year-old hundreds of miles from home.

Jeter, possibly feeling the pressure of being a first-round pick, hit just .210 in his first pro season. He made 56 errors at shortstop the next year.

"I tried to be as supportive as I could during the times when he struggled -- and there were those times," Newman said. "Like most young kids, they need to be reassured that, truly, things aren't as bad as they seem right at the moment."

Jeter made it through those early struggles with a determination and class atypical of athletes his age. So Newman felt an added sense of pride when Jeter got his first hit.

"Everybody rooted for Derek," Newman said. "He, perhaps more than others, people were cheering for."

Mike Hinga doesn't having any sort of epiphany about Jeter on May 30, 1995.

Hinga, who coached Jeter for two summers with the Kalamazoo Maroons, believes he was probably on the Maroons' bench for another summer league game that day, so he didn't get a chance to see the Yankees-Mariners game live.

But he heard about Jeter's first hit on the local news and read about it in the Kalamazoo Gazette the next day.

Still, Hinga remembers, no one in Jeter's hometown was ready to throw a parade over hit No. 1.

"You didn't put a whole lot of stock in it, because you knew there were going to be more," Hinga said. "You were just glad he'd gotten to do it. But, was this the start of something? I don't think there was that feeling."

Now that Jeter has knocked down the door of the 3,000-hit club, it's different.

As Jeter approaches the milestone, Hinga says he feels "real fortunate that [I] crossed paths with that asteroid."

For Showalter, the current manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Jeter is now the enemy.

Whenever he crosses paths with Jeter, there's no handshake or hug. Both respect baseball's rules against fraternization too much for that kind of spectacle.

But that doesn't mean Showalter can't appreciate what Jeter's doing. To show it, the O's skipper exchanges knowing nods with the onetime World Series MVP.

"It's a competitive respect," Showalter said. "I think it's one of those things that's unspoken. It's a nod. For me, I'm kind of like ... an admiring uncle. You say 'OK, I got one right.'"

For Newman, roles have now been completely reversed. He once imparted his baseball wisdom on a young Jeter. Now, he seeks insight from the future Hall of Famer.

"We talk about the past occasionally, but I'd rather talk more about what's going on now and what's coming up -- what he sees, what pitchers are tough, how he plays defense against this hitter," Newman said. "I try to extract knowledge from him, try to learn things from him. It's certainly a role reversal from 100 years ago."

Same goes for Tino Martinez. Not long after that day in late-May 1995, Martinez joined the Yankees and helped jump-start a dynasty. He and Jeter became a cornerstone of Yankees teams that won four titles in five years.

A little more than 16 years after standing next to Jeter after his first hit, Martinez can only laugh when he says "here we are at 3,000."

On rare occasions, he and Jeter will still talk about the first one. Sometimes, Martinez is at the Stadium, and they show the replay on the JumboTron.

"We'll laugh about it once in a while," he says.

Martinez remains one of Jeter's closest friends in baseball to this day. And he remains impressed with the kid from Kalamazoo.

"I'm not only a friend of his, I'm a big fan of his," Martinez said. "I just like watching him accomplish all of the things he's accomplished over the last [16] years. It's been amazing."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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