Drellich: Just as Mookie Betts admires Derek Jeter, the former Yankee is a big fan of the Red Sox outfielder
FORT MYERS — The closest thing to a young Derek Jeter plays for the Red Sox.
“He went through it,” Mookie Betts said. “When you think of baseball, you think of him.”
And when Jeter thinks of baseball today, he thinks of Mookie.
Betts, the runner-up for American League MVP last year, didn’t have a favorite team as a kid. He said he didn’t even watch much baseball.
But Jeter “was definitely my favorite player growing up,” Betts said yesterday, before the Sox lost 5-4 to a Yankees split-squad team.
Jeter’s the one admiring now.
Yankees pitching prospect Justus Sheffield recently told reporters that Jeter named Betts as the player he most likes to see play. Yesterday, Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis said he’s heard the same thing from the former Yankees captain.
“Jeter told me that personally,” said Davis, who was teammates with a young Jeter. “He likes him a lot. They’re different. (But even) two years ago, they reminded me of each other.”
How so, besides being incredibly successful in major markets at young ages, with pretty swings and great athleticism?
“Just everything about them,” Davis said. “The way Mookie kids around. How serious he is about his game. That’s how Jeter was. Jeter would come in and give everybody (expletive). And always — and you’d take it, and he gave it back. But when they went out to play, it was all business.”
In front of the media and in the public eye, they’re all business as well.
Word got back to Betts about what Jeter told Sheffield. Betts responded with a little over-the-top modesty.
“Doesn’t matter who says what or whatever, I still have to go out and play the game,” Betts said. “I’m fortunate enough for him to say that because I feel like I play the game the right way and I kind of go about this game the right way.
“And I think that was more of his purpose. He wasn’t necessarily (speaking of) me in particular. I think it was just people who play the game the right way and respect the game. I think that’s kind of his purpose behind it, and not just me.”
There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about what playing the right way means. Betts named the standards: hustling, running out balls.
But Betts has a little flare to his game too. He’ll gesture when he reaches first base.
Think of the Sox’ post-win routine, where the three outfielders gather and one of them strikes a celebratory pose while the other two pretend to hold cameras, recording the scene.
Jeter had that trademark fist pump, don’t forget. He didn’t move through the game robotically.
“Have fun. That’s part of having fun in the game too,” Betts said. “You can’t play the game and not enjoy it. It’s definitely fun out there, especially with guys that you love being around.
“I’m kind of just trying to be myself. Give myself a good name. I want to be remembered for being who I am and obviously playing the game the right way. And it may be similar to — (Jeter’s) path is kind of the ideal path, but I want to be myself too.”
These are just coincidences, but with time, they could prove symbolic.
Jeter’s last season, 2014, happened to be Betts’ first.
The first ball Betts ever fielded in the big leagues was a line single to right off the bat of Jeter. Betts didn’t recall that.
And after Betts’ first hit in that same game, at Yankee Stadium, he was tagged out by Jeter trying to steal second.
“I remember that part,” Betts said.
He didn’t try talk to Jeter that day, because he “was too focused on not trying to suck at that time.”
So they spoke during BP later that season.
“I’ve had conversations with him (since),” Betts said. “Being with (the Michael) Jordan brand, I got to kind of talk to him kind of up close and personal, and talk about some things.”
Jeter had some advice. But it wouldn’t be very Jeter-like to share many details, now would it.
“Go play. Just have fun. Enjoy the game,” Betts said of Jeter’s words. “It goes by quick. He said it seems like a long time, but it goes by quick, so just enjoy it.”
No one today is walking that “ideal track,” the one Betts saw Jeter follow, more closely than Betts.
“I want to do something similar to him,” Betts said, “but I kind of just want to be Mookie and not be Derek Jeter.”