HOUSTON (AP) — Derek Jeter is unsure how he will feel Tuesday when he begins his farewell season with the New York Yankees against the Houston Astros.
“I’m trying to treat it like any other opening day,” he said, “and every opening day is special where you have butterflies and you have nerves and I think that’s a good thing. I don’t foresee this being any different.”
To the rest of the sports world it certainly will be. Jeter announced in February that his 20th big league season will be his last. It will mark the end of an illustrious career in which the shortstop was a 13-time All-Star and helped the Yankees to five World Series titles.
He’ll join fellow Core Four members Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera in retirement.
“Obviously we’re going to miss him and I’m going to try to soak up as much of this as I can this year,” manager Joe Girardi said before the Yankees worked out on Monday in Houston. “It’s unfortunate, all good things do come to an end but it’s been a nice journey and I’ve been a part of it and I’m thankful.”
Houston manager Bo Porter had trouble putting into words what Jeter has meant to the sport.
“He is exactly what baseball stands for — professionalism, hard work, dedication, leadership, championships,” Porter said. “He’s about as good it gets.”
Jeter returns to the field on opening day after missing all but 17 games last season after breaking his left ankle in the 2012 playoffs.
Injuries decimated the Yankees last season and they missed the postseason for just the second time in 19 years.
“I missed so many games last year it’s almost like I missed the entire year anyway,” Jeter said. “It’s a different feeling. I was a part of the team obviously but I was away from the team for a long time. You want to get back to the playoffs. That’s what you play for.”
Jeter’s return to the opening day lineup is far from the only change by the Yankees from a year ago. For the first time since 1947 and just the second time in team history, every position except pitcher will have a different player on opening day than it did in New York’s previous opener.
The Yankees began 2013 with a loss to Boston. Kevin Youkilis was at first base, Robinson Cano at second, Eduardo Nunez at shortstop, Jayson Nix at third, Francisco Cervelli behind the plate, Vernon Wells in left, Brett Gardner in center and Ichiro Suzuki in right.
Gardner will start again on Tuesday, but he’ll play left instead of center. He and Jeter will be joined in the starting lineup by Brian McCann at catcher, Carlos Beltran in right field, Mark Teixeira at first, Brian Roberts at second, Kelly Johnson at third and Jacoby Ellsbury in center.
C.C. Sabathia will make his sixth straight opening day start. He is coming off a subpar season where he had a career-worst 4.78 ERA.
“Last year I kind of had some doubts about going into the year, just not feeling strong, my elbow, just questions,” he said. “This year it just feels great. I feel like I don’t have anything to worry about and I can go out and focus on pitching and try to just be good.”
He and the MLB’s team will do it against a Houston club which is again the youngest in the majors. The Yankees have the second-highest payroll this season and the Astros remain the team with the lowest.
The Astros have eight players who are on an opening day roster for the first time and three of them, left fielder Robbie Grossman, right fielder L.J. Hoes and shortstop Jonathan Villar, are expected to start.
Houston added center fielder and leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler and opening day starter Scott Feldman as they try to improve after three straight 100-loss seasons.
“Every year is different, so hopefully we can get off to a good start this first month and just keep it going from there,” Feldman said.