Derek Jeter is pretty sure he likes Eduardo Nunez, a shortstop who was once considered a potential successor to the Yankees legend. But he can’t be sure.
“He doesn’t speak Spanish or English very well,” Jeter joked shortly before the Twins and Yankees opened a four-game series at Target Field. “You don’t know what he’s saying most of the time.”
Actually, Jeter said, “I love Nunez. He was a great teammate, fun to be around.” But when the Yankees needed a roster spot during the season’s first week, they jettisoned Jeter’s backup, trading him to the Twins for minor league pitcher Miguel Sulbaran. Nunez has hit .305 in 28 games with the Twins, turning into a valuable utility player.
“He works extremely hard. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for him” with the Yankees, Jeter said. “But I wish him the best in Minnesota.”
Minnesota seems to be wishing Jeter the best, too, as he makes his final appearance in the Twin Cities. The Yankees captain announced in February that 2014 is his final season — though that doesn’t mean he’s easing into retirement.
“I don’t like calling it a farewell tour. It’s my last year, but we’re still trying to win games,” Jeter said. “I have a job to do, so I’m not just walking around shaking hands and taking pictures.”
Still, the Twins, like most teams the Yankees have visited this season, plan to honor him while he’s here. A gift will be presented before Saturday’s game, though not the one manager Ron Gardenhire recommended: “I wanted to give him a Jet Ski,” the manager said.
Instead, the team has come up with something “that’s really pretty cool,” said Gardenhire, who helped come up with the notion last year of giving Mariano Rivera a rocking chair made of broken bats. “I know this about Jeet: He’s not one of those guys who wants a bunch of showy stuff. He doesn’t want to put stuff all over his house. So they did something pretty neat.”
But first, there are a couple of games to play, starting with Thursday’s game against another former Jeter teammate, Twins righthander Phil Hughes. Again, the iconic Yankee was complimentary about the new Twin, who won 56 games as a Yankee. “Phil played a huge part of our team, especially in 2009,” the Yankees’ most recent World Series championship, Jeter said. “He was great for us as a starter, [and] that particular year he pitched out of the bullpen.”
Jeter figures the 28-year-old righthander “is going to have a lot of success. He’s been pitching extremely well here for Minnesota,” he said. “It was fun to get to know him throughout the years as he came up through the organization. I wish him the best. He’s a great guy on top of being a great talent.”
Chris Colabello lingered after batting practice to watch the Yankees starters hit — one newcomer in particular. Zelous Wheeler was added to the Yankees’ roster Thursday morning and, after bouncing around the minors with three different organizations over the past eight seasons, made his major league debut in Target Field.
Colabello, who has a similar never-give-up story, was a teammate of Wheeler in the Mexican League a few years back. “Just last week, we were standing around the batting cage in Scranton, catching up,” Colabello said. “We never would have dreamed we’d both be in Target Field a week later.”
The dream got better for Wheeler: He homered in the fifth inning off Hughes, his first major league hit.