Yanks owe Astros a ‘Thank you’ for Jeter

Snowflakes falling early Monday seemed a sign that winter simply would not go away. However, Tuesday’s weather turned out perfect for an Opening Day game. Alas, the Yankees were to begin the 2014 season on the road. That is a good thing for fans.

Look at this way, although the Yankees have to play the first six games of their season on the road, the guarantee for fans is that all the games will be played. Yankees fans do not worry about postponements due to weather conditions, an annual concern in the spring, because both ballparks — Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Toronto’s Rogers Centre — have retractable roofs. Not having to deal with early-season rainouts will keep the Yankees for having to lose precious off-days later in the season to makeup dates.

The Yankees begin this year where they ended up last season — in Houston where the Astros are amid another rebuilding mode. Perhaps the presence of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan will help matters, although even better would be if ‘ol Zeke could toe the rubber once more.

The Yankees will show off some new faces, but it is a familiar once that will draw much of the attention not only Tuesday night but also the rest of the season. This will be the swan song of Derek Jeter, who will call it a career at season’s end and conclude one of the greatest runs an individual player has ever had for the Yanks, which is high praise indeed.

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter

How ironic that DJ will begin this final journey in Houston because that is where his major-league career might have been centered all this time. The Astros had the No. 1 pick of baseball’s amateur draft in 1992 when Jeter, then a freshman at the University of Michigan, was eligible.

While Jeter was opening eyes at Kalamazoo High, no one was more impressed than Hal Newhouser, a former two-time American League Most Valuable Player (1944 and ’45) who would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame. Newhouser was a long-time executive at Pontiac Community Bank after his playing career ended and kept his hand in baseball as a scout and was working for the Astros at the time.

The former Tigers lefthander submitted one glowing report after the other on Jeter and told club execs that the tall, lanky shortstop was the best young player he had ever scouted. The Astros may have suspected a home-state bias on Newhouser’s part. For whatever reason, they passed on Jeter and used their top pick to select infielder Phil Nevin instead. Nevin went on to have a decent career, but his best years were after he left Houston and came nowhere near the heights reached by Jeter.

Newhouser was so upset at Houston’s decision that he quit his position with the team.

Astonishingly, Jeter was still around when the Yankees made the sixth overall pick of that draft and chose the player who would eventually be the center piece of a remarkable stretch of success that resulted in his becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in games played and hits and captain of clubs that won 13 division titles, seven pennants and five World Series.

While the Yankees are in Houston this week, they may want to thank the Astros.

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