FORT MYERS, Fla. — As soon as the Red Sox acquired Jeter Downs, considerable fascination with his first name (yes, a nod to the newly elected Hall of Famer) emerged. But while the shortstop’s first name attests to a connection with his new team’s foremost rivals, his last name already linked the 21-year-old in a more meaningful way to the Red Sox organization.
His brother, Jerry Downs, is a 26-year-old first baseman who is entering his sixth year in the Red Sox minor league system. The 2015 15th-rounder out of St. Thomas University reached Double A last year, hitting .176/.270/.275 in 55 games with Portland.
“He basically molded me into what I am,” said Jeter Downs, who was drafted out of high school by the Reds with the No. 32 overall pick in the 2017 draft. “He’s really the one that when I was in high school taught me the game, taught me everything about a future in baseball that I should look forward to, things that aren’t going to be as pretty — he kind of prepared me for it.
“That helped me make my decision on if I wanted to go to school or if I wanted to start [a pro career].”
The closeness of the two is obvious, and amplified by the fact that they work out together (along with their father) throughout the offseason in South Florida. Jerry Downs beams when discussing his younger brother’s abilities.
“He does it all, man,” said Jerry. “He can steal 20 bags, hit 20 bombs, hit 20 doubles, play shortstop, second base, third base, wherever they put him. He’s just a grinder. On the field, he’s so mature. He doesn’t act like he’s 21 on the field. I’m just very excited for him.”
At times, the two imagined the possibility of playing together professionally.
“He actually told me this offseason, ‘Man, it would be funny if I’d be able to throw it to you somewhere,’ ” said Jerry.
So their curiosity was piqued when rumors started forming about the possibility of a deal between the Red Sox and Dodgers that would send Mookie Betts to Los Angeles. The two took stock of rumors suggesting Jeter as a prospect who could end up in Boston.
Initially, it appeared that such hopes had been misplaced when the Red Sox, Dodgers, and Twins arrived at a three-team deal that would have brought Alex Verdugo and Minnesota pitcher Brusdar Graterol to Boston. But as concerns about Graterol’s medical evaluation took shape, the Downs brothers reassessed.
“Once the first trade didn’t go through, we were like, ‘You never know . . .,’ ” said Jerry. “But he thought he was going to go back to the Dodgers, for sure. So then, once the second came around and he was finally over here, he actually called me right before it happened and he was like, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but I think it’s going to happen.’
“He was on his way to the airport. They told him, ‘Don’t get on the flight. You’re coming up to Fort Myers.’ It was pretty cool. It’s awesome for my family.”
Jerry had arrived in Fort Myers at the start of February to start preparing for his season. On Tuesday, one day after the trade became official, Jeter made the drive (just under two hours) across Florida to his new spring training home.
The new Red Sox prospect arrived late in the day. After he unpacked, he wanted to get in a workout. He knew whom to call.
“It was insane,” said Jeter. “We went to go throw outside. It was crazy. I throw with him every day in the offseason. Now, to be wearing the same organization’s colors, throwing together in a facility like this, it was pretty surreal.
“I was bugging him. I said, ‘If we ever play together and I throw you a ball that you don’t pick, we’re fighting.’ ”
It was a familiar sort of exchange, but the setting made it noteworthy for the brothers. The reality of having a shared upbringing in the game arrive at a shared point in professional baseball — on the same field, in the same team’s workout gear — proved memorable.
“It’s still surreal,” said Jerry. “I actually called him that night at like 11:30. I was like, ‘Dude, are you really a Red Sox right now?’ He was like, ‘I know, I was just thinking about it.’ ”
The two are now looking for a place to stay during the rest of spring training, one that can accommodate not just the two of them but also the potentially frequent visits of their parents, who no longer have to worry about flying to Arizona to see Jeter in Dodgers camp.
While trades sometimes can be unsettling, this one has been cause for celebration for the Downs brothers.
“I’m proud. I’m excited for him,” said Jerry. “We both work hard. He’s worked his butt off. I’m just excited to see what the future holds for us.”