Derek Jeter

David Ortiz, Derek Jeter already recognize greatness in Red Sox' Rafael Devers

David Ortiz, Derek Jeter already recognize greatness in Red Sox' Rafael Devers

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Rafael Devers understands most questions in English before they're translated into Spanish by Red Sox communications manager Bryan Almonte.

But on Friday morning at JetBlue Park, he waited to hear a question about David Ortiz in his native tongue before breaking into a broad smile. A day earlier, Ortiz had said he never leaves the room when Devers bats, which means one of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history considers the 23-year-old appointment viewing.

Devers looked positively giddy at the concept.

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"It's great to hear that, especially from a legend like David Ortiz," Devers said, via Almonte. "He's someone I watched growing up and obviously he's someone I hold in high regard. Knowing that he's watching me, I just try to pick his brain as much as I can. I know the knowledge that he has and passes down to me is very important to my growth."

As the Red Sox ponder a future without Mookie Betts, they take some solace in the knowledge that Devers has not even approached his ceiling, even after a breakout 2019 that saw him lead the league in doubles (54) and total bases (359).

He has certainly caught the eye of Ortiz, the franchise icon who's in camp as an instructor. It turns out he's not the only baseball legend impressed with the young slugger, who officially checked in to camp on Friday after taking a couple of extra days with his newborn daughter in the Dominican Republic.

"True story, his first year they went to play the Marlins," Ortiz said. "I was sitting right next to Derek Jeter. And I asked Derek, 'Hey, which one is the player in the lineup that scares you the most?' And he said, 'Devers.' His first year. And I totally agreed with him because he was fearless. That's when you know that a hitter is going to be dangerous. So, what he did last year, it was not surprising to be honest with you. I saw that coming."

Told jokingly that Devers was only 14 years old last year, Ortiz laughed.

"That's what makes it even crazier," he marveled, "a guy that young figuring things out that quick."

The story of Devers' 2019 is well known. He didn't drive in a run until Game 13 despite opening the season batting third, he didn't homer until May 3, and he finished April on pace for more than 40 errors.

But once he flipped the switch, he couldn't be stopped. He ended up hitting .311 with 32 homers and 115 RBI, and his move to the 2-hole in the lineup led to a team-wide offensive explosion. For his efforts, he finished 12th in the MVP voting and earned one diehard fan who needs no introduction.

"I don't need him to do more than what he did last year," Ortiz said. "His numbers last year were sick. Last year was my first year really watching a lot of games, to be honest with you. I was sitting at home, so of course, I'm going to be watching games more than ever. It seems like every day that guy was doing some damage. Every day. Now I understand why I have people coming to me and telling me, 'Bro, I couldn't wait for you to come to hit. I was always expecting something out of you. Your at-bats were good enough even if you got yourself out.'

"I have the same feeling about him. I couldn't wait for him to come to hit. Because if he gets himself out, he was fighting. He was hitting a rocket at somebody. It was a pitcher making a nasty pitch on him. It was not a giveaway at-bat at all. I saw more than 250 at-bats coming out of him and bro I'm telling you, this guy is on another level."

Devers practically blushes at Ortiz's praise, but says what he has really learned from the future Hall of Famer is the value of consistency and hard work.

"I want to improve on everything," Devers said. "I don't feel like I'm a finished product yet. I want to improve on offense, defense, whatever it is that I can work on every single day because I feel like we always need to keep improving."

The pressure on Devers to replace Betts will be immense, but he's not sweating it, and that's a good thing, as far as Ortiz is concerned.

"Devers, all he has to do from now on is have the same mentality," Ortiz said. "He had a phenomenal year last year, phenomenal. I can't ask him for more than that."


 

Jeter Downs explains his name, and how he finally met his hero in a bizarrely random way

Jeter Downs explains his name, and how he finally met his hero in a bizarrely random way

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jeter Downs may be named after the Yankees' Hall of Fame shortstop, but the two had never met until a chance encounter at a Miami traffic light just last week.

"I was driving, me and my brother were driving to go to train," Downs said Wednesday. "My brother, we're in traffic. He sees this Range Rover pulling up. He was like, 'Oh my God, is that Jeter?' He honks and I wave at him.

"I'm doing training with Raul Ibanez. I called Raul and said, 'Tell Jeter that the kid he was waving at was Jeter.' So then he told him that and it was pretty cool that I met him that way."

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A couple of days later, one of Downs' friends attended a Marlins event and arranged for Derek Jeter to FaceTime with his awestruck namesake.

"I've idolized him my whole life," Downs said. "It was finally good to meet him and talk to him a little bit. It was definitely special."

Needless to say, there's a new Jeter in town, and the Red Sox can only hope he's one-tenth the player who gave him his first name.

Jeter Downs was part of the return for Mookie Betts and David Price in the blockbuster with the Dodgers, and the slugging 21-year-old middle infielder hopes to strike his own path in Boston.

"It's cool to be traded for arguably a top-five player in the game," Downs said. "But it doesn't mean anything if I don't go out and do my job. I still have to go out and perform, play well. Things can be talked about after."

So about that name, which he estimates he's been asked about so much, "I can't even count the number of times."

His mom liked the way Jeter played, so she gave that name to her son, who was born in Colombia, but raised in Miami. His older brother, Jerry, is also a Red Sox farmhand, though he's named after their dad, who has always been a Red Sox fan.

"Obviously you get bombarded with this whole name thing," Downs said. "It's pretty cool. I guess my mom knew what she was doing when she named me Jeter."

The Red Sox gave him some special treatment, not only inviting him to big league camp, but giving him a locker next to J.D. Martinez and a number (20) that's about 65 less than the typical minor leaguer.

There's a lot to like about Downs' game. While scouts are split on his ability to remain at shortstop, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder projects as an everyday second baseman with power. He blasted 24 home runs last year between High-A and Double-A, and there's no reason to think he couldn't move quickly in a Red Sox farm system that's currently thin on top-end talent.

"Honestly I don't care where I'm playing as long as I'm helping the team win," Downs said. "It'd be the outfield if that's what we need to win and make things happen."

And who knows? Maybe he'll even do justice to his name.

"I obviously have the name, so I kind of had to be a fan of his," he said. "I idolized him – the way he played, the way he went about the game, the things he did, how he was respected by every single team. It was pretty cool as a kid. I don't care what team you're from. It was just cool to watch a guy like that."

Pedro Martinez gives Yankees star Derek Jeter special Hall of Fame shoutout

Pedro Martinez gives Yankees star Derek Jeter special Hall of Fame shoutout

Boston Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez gave a special shoutout Tuesday to one of the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Martinez, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015, tweeted a message of congratulations to New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter after Monday's 2020 HOF class announcement.


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Jeter was a near-unanimous selection with 99.7 percent of the vote, making him the 57th first-ballot Hall of Famer. The other member of the 2020 class is Larry Walker, who's best known for his many impressive years with the Colorado Rockies.

Martinez and Jeter played in many intense games against each other as part of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, including three American League Championship Series. The three-time Cy Young Award winner finally got the best of Jeter and the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, where the Red Sox overcame a 3-0 series deficit and shocked New York with a Game 7 victory at Yankee Stadium. 

Now, as Martinez noted in his tweet, they are teammates in Cooperstown, where their extraordinary careers and enormous impact on the sport's greatest rivalry will live on forever.

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