The Kid from Kalamazoo, The Captain, and Mr. November are just a few of Derek Jeter’s nicknames, but was stopped short of being Mr. Unanimous, after the former New York Yankees captain was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame but missed a perfect ballot count by one vote.
Before he was racking up more than 3,000 hits in the major leagues and becoming the face of the Yankees organization, Jeter was a multi-sport athlete at Kalamazoo Central High School. A sensational shortstop on the baseball diamond, Jeter was also a sharpshooter on the hardwood for the Maroon Giants.
“He was better than most of the others at everything, better arm, ran a little faster, had a little more pop in his bat and hit for a better average.” Mike Hinga, his former travel baseball coach, said.
Hinga described him as athletic and hard-working.
A quiet, humble, and well-spoken shortstop, Jeter stayed out of the limelight until one day at a travel tournament in Coldwater, Michigan, scout Dick Groch noticed the 6-foot-3 lanky kid playing in the infield, and marveled at his potential.
He called Jeter “A Yankee, A five tool player, will be an all-star.”
Foresight or a bold prediction? Whatever you want to call it, Groch was right 14 times, as Jeter played in 14 mid-summer classics during his 20-year career in pinstripes. After one scout noticed his potential, the stands became filled with scouts holding clipboards and stopwatches, hoping to get a glimpse of the future Hall of Fame shortstop.
Draft day came and many expected Jeter to go number one overall to the Houston Astros. The Astros didn’t select him, going against the opinion of veteran scout Hal Newhouser.
Jeter would fall to the Yankees at sixth overall, a team he grew up idolizing and the club he said he would play for at a young age. He willed it into existence and made the most of the opportunity when it presented itself.
Jeter wasn’t always that all-star shortstop though. During his years in the minors, Jeter struggled mightily. He was named Rookie of the Year during a breakthrough season in 1996 that turned the page on his illustrious career and paved the way for a host of memorable moments in the Bronx.
From 3,465 hits, which leads the Yankees organization, to the iconic flip against Oakland, and the walk-off base hit against Baltimore to end his career, no light was ever too bright for the number 2.
There were many memories in the city that never sleeps, and it all started in Kalamazoo.