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With expectations 'same as always,' Yanks need a healthy Jeter

Captain opens up about his recovery, goal of playing Opening Day
02/17/2013 3:23 PM ET
By Jack Curry

Derek Jeter batted .316 and led the Major Leagues with 216 hits a season ago.(AP)
TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter is almost always dismissive when he's asked about injuries, preferring to say that he is fine, just fine, while providing scant details. That has been Jeter's stubborn approach for his entire career, a routine stemming from his refusal to make excuses.

But on Sunday, when Jeter and the Yankees' position players reported to Spring Training at Steinbrenner Field, he elaborated on how deeply he was impacted by breaking his left ankle in the postseason.

Four months after he was carried off the field at Yankee Stadium, Jeter understood there would be a plethora of questions about his injury and his future, so he addressed them more descriptively than he usually does.

Since Jeter's ankle is healing, and he is poised to start running on the field for the first time on Monday, it naturally made it easier for him to discuss his injury. Jeter reiterated that his goal is to start Opening Day against the Boston Red Sox on April 1, a goal that will be measured on a day-by-day basis as the 38-year-old eases into baseball shape.

"Why wouldn't it be realistic?" Jeter said about playing on Opening Day. "I broke my ankle in October. I'm right where I'm supposed to be up until this point. The ankle has healed perfectly. Now it's just a matter of getting everything else in shape."

Then, he added, "I'm going to have to push myself. But, Opening Day, yeah, that's been a goal all along."

Jeter, who normally wouldn't disclose if his temperature rose to 99 degrees, said he had a plate and screws inserted in his ankle to help stabilize it. But he stressed that he wasn't concerned about his mobility and joked that it's not as if his ankle is "just going to fall off." Still, when a shortstop is four months shy of his 39th birthday and playing on a surgically-repaired ankle, the questions about his future will persist.

After Jeter bruised a bone in his ankle, he said, at some undisclosed point, it eventually "turned into a stress fracture" and then "broke in half." Doctors told him that if he hadn't broken his ankle scampering to his left in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, he would have suffered the same injury at another point. While Jeter admitted that he probably shouldn't have been playing on the fragile ankle, he said he "would do the same thing all over again."

The Yankees need Jeter to do the same thing all over again this season, meaning they need him to have the same productive season he had one year ago. That is a hefty request.

The captain led the league with 216 hits, batted .316 and had a .362 on-base percentage. How Jeter progresses will be one of the dominant themes of the spring. But, not only do the Yankees need Jeter to be healthy, they need him to be an offensive linchpin again, too.

"If I didn't break my ankle, I'd still be answering similar questions about getting older," Jeter said. "It's not like I go out and say I have to prove something. I just go out and try to improve. That's the approach I take.

"I don't think about age. I don't. I think, if you get caught up in thinking how old you are, those are negative thoughts."

In an offseason recuperation that Jeter described as "terrible, absolutely terrible," he spent about five or six weeks confined to a couch. Jeter actually conceded that he used a motorized scooter for transportation when he wasn't on the couch. After saying that he didn't want to be overly dramatic, Jeter explained how he had to "learn to walk again" and how challenging that was.

Eventually, questions about Jeter's ankle were replaced by questions about the 2013 Yankees. That's when Jeter returned to being the same, old Jeter. He said the expectations for the Yankees are "the same as always. You have to win."

For that to happen, Jeter must be a major part of it. For Jeter to be a major part of it, he needs to rebound from the ankle injury. So, in 2013, Jeter and his ankle need to be just as effective as 2012.

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