TAMPA — When Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the Yankees over the winter, Xander Bogaerts didn’t want to seem too eager. But Ellsbury’s No. 2 was now available and Bogaerts thought it would be great if he could wear the same number as his boyhood idol, Derek Jeter.
The Red Sox were more than willing to oblige their prized young player.
On Tuesday, the shortstops of the Red Sox and Yankees both wore No. 2.
“I didn’t know that,” said Jeter when told Bogaerts wears No. 2 in his honor. “He seems like a good kid with a lot of talent. I think Boston is going to be very satisfied with him for many years to come.”
Bogaerts grew up in Aruba, watching television to see Jeter, a middle-class kid from Kalamazoo, Mich. Different worlds.
Jeter is 39, Bogaerts is 21. They both made their major league debuts at age 20, Jeter in 1995, Bogaerts in 2013.
What they also have in common is the same coach who worked on them with their defense, Brian Butterfield. As a young minor league coach in the Yankees system in 1993, Butterfield was given the assignment of taking a kid who had made 56 errors in Greensboro (Single A) and changing his career path.
So in the fall of that year — when Bogaerts was about a year old — Jeter’s career changed for the better.
“Just an incredibly good kid and so coachable,” said Butterfield. “We worked really hard. I was probably a little hard on him, but Derek never complained.
“He wanted to get better. He was upset about the errors he had made and never wanted to be in that position again. So we worked on his footwork and positioning and he became more and more confident.
“Not long after I left him, this kid was breaking in with the New York Yankees, and he never looked back.
“But he did it. He’s the one who put in the work and made it happen. His career has been remarkable and I’ve been so happy for him over the years.
“It’s hard to believe it’s — what? — 18, 19 years later, and he’s going to retire and going to the Hall of Fame.”
Jeter remembers those days, calling them “vital to my development as a shortstop.”
“I remember, it was 1993 in the instructional league,” he said. “I had hurt my hand, so I was in a defense-only situation. So it was me and Butter, six weeks of defense. It turned my career around because I had made 56 errors that year.
“There wasn’t the video you have now. But every single day we worked so hard on everything, from footwork, to glove work, throwing. The next year I did better. After 56 errors, the only way you can go is the other direction. He played a vital part.”
That instruction took place about a mile down the road from where the Sox and Yankees were playing Tuesday. For Butterfield, this was surreal. He remembers so vividly working with the kid, Jeter. And now spending so much time with the new kid, Bogaerts.
“Bogey is much farther along than Jeter was at the time I worked with him,” Butterfield recalled. “We had to work on everything with Derek, who was just a kid then. Bogey has had more of a base and Andy Fox [Red Sox minor league infield instructor] has already done great work with Bogey.”
Bogaerts understands what Jeter went through, because he’s living it with Butterfield right now. He knows how tough Butterfield can be, but the results — which were spectacular for Jeter — have been noticeable for Bogaerts.
Bogaerts spoke to Jeter one time before Tuesday, during a game at Yankee Stadium last Sept. 7. After hitting a double, Bogaerts stood at second base and heard Jeter say to him, “Don’t listen to Butter.” That the veteran even acknowledged him was an honor.
“I grew up following him,” Bogaerts said. “That’s why I asked to see if I could get No. 2 after Jacoby went over to the Yankees.
“He was definitely the best example for any young player or any active player playing the game. When I hit the double, I spoke to him for a split second. This year I hope to hit more doubles so I can talk to him.”
Bogaerts could have an outstanding career ahead of him, perhaps ending for a while the changeover at shortstop in Boston since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004.
But he does have a ways to go before he solidifies the position, especially with the slick-fielding Deven Marrero perhaps a year away. The emergence of Bogaerts seems to have kept the Red Sox from bringing back Stephen Drew, and it appears he will start the season at shortstop rather than at third, where many scouts and evaluators feel he should be long-term.
Part of the allure of playing shortstop is the respect he has for Jeter.
“He’s had an awesome career,” Bogaerts said. “I just admire how he’s handled everything. He’s done it so well for so long.
“It’s funny that we had the same coach teaching us the ropes. I know that was a long time ago when Butter worked with Jeter, but look at how good Jeter became because he worked with Butter.
“I see so much improvement in my own game and my footwork and all the things that are important to being a good shortstop in the league.
“So I know we’re not on the same team and we’re rivals, but I think I’m picking the right guy to look up to and try to emulate in some way.
“It’s hard to ever think you could accomplish what he did as a player, but most important is how he went about it. That’s what I think is so special about him.”
Bogaerts is an extremely respectful young man. It’s not lost on Jeter.
As one shortstop wearing No. 2 who will one day be enshrined in Cooperstown spends the season saying goodbye, another shortstop wearing No. 2 — a wide-eyed 21-year-old with a bright smile, wearing the uniform of the rival team — hopes to begin living his own dream.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.