The captain’s final voyage begins in Houston

Derek JeterDerek Jeter isn’t sure of how Tuesday’s season opener against the Astros will turn out, but he has a pretty good idea of what Opening Day will feel like. As Jeter kicks off what may look like a 162-game victory lap through big league cities far and near, the retiring Yankees captain is just trying not to look too far ahead.

“I would assume it’s like every other Opening Day,” Jeter said at Minute Maid Park, where the Yankees held a workout on Monday. “I’m trying to treat it like every other Opening Day. Every Opening Day is special; you have butterflies and you have nerves. I think that’s a good thing. But I don’t foresee that being any different.”

You have to scrape to find a connection between Jeter and Houston; he has actually played just three career games at Minute Maid Park, since Jeter missed the Yanks’ season-ending series here last September. Those three games came in 2008, back when the Astros were still in the National League, during a series which you’ll probably remember most for Chien-Ming Wang’s career-altering injury while running the bases.

But there is a fun story about how the Astros had the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 First-Year Player Draft. Astros scout Hal Newhouser, a Hall of Fame pitcher during his playing days, had seen plenty of Jeter on the fields of Kalamazoo, Mich. and predicted stardom ahead for the young shortstop. Newhouser lobbied the Astros to take Jeter, but Houston selected college infielder Phil Nevin instead.

Four other teams also passed on Jeter, who fell to the Yankees at the No. 6 spot. The Yankees had their future captain, and Newhouser handed in his resignation shortly after the Draft.

“I was fortunate to be drafted by the team that I wanted to be with, that I was a fan of growing up,” Jeter said. “I’ve never really allowed myself to think of what could have been different. I understand the draft is a crapshoot. I wasn’t even aware that the Yankees drafted sixth, to be quite honest with you. I think things worked out the way they should have worked out.”

Jeter has said that he was pleased with how his spring went, even though he batted just .137 (7-for-51) in 18 Grapefruit League games. Jeter’s timing seemed to improve near the end of camp, and the fact that he moved well on the basepaths and in the field was encouraging to the Yankees.

“It’s been a fun spring,” Jeter said. “It was a fun spring for me in terms of just getting back on the field — and enjoying it.”

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