GREENSBORO — Turns out, the Captain has a pretty good sense of humor.
Derek Jeter, a part-owner and CEO of the Miami Marlins, returned to Greensboro this week for the first time since he played shortstop for the 1993 Hornets.
It was a business trip, and the 44-year-old in his first year as a baseball executive is serious when it comes to business.
Jeter’s group included Michael Hill, the Marlins' president of baseball operations; Caroline O’Connor, the team’s vice president and chief of staff; and 27-year-old Geoff DeGroot, manager of player development and scouting.
It was a relationship-building trip for Jeter, a chance to meet Greensboro Grasshoppers officials. The Hoppers have been the Marlins' affiliate in the South Atlantic League since 2003, but the two clubs’ latest operating agreement expires this year.
“It’s new to me. I’m still learning,” Jeter said. “It’s my first time back in Greensboro since I played here. I had an opportunity to meet with some of the owners, and with (general manager) Donald (Moore) and (vice president of baseball operations) Katie (Dannemiller). It’s a relationship we would like to continue for years to come.”
Jeter liked what he saw. Much has changed since he played here, and the downtown ballpark is a serious upgrade from old War Memorial Stadium, where he played.
“Obviously, you focus on player development,” Jeter said. “You want guys to continually get better. To have an opportunity to come to a town like Greensboro and play here, it’s a first-class experience. It almost feels like if you get promoted, it could be a bad thing because the city is so nice.”
Jeter has fond memories of Greensboro. It was his first full season as a pro, and he turned 19 years old midway through the year.
But he himself brought up the dubious 56 errors he made at shortstop that summer.
And that’s when he showed off the sense of humor.
The conversation shifted to the Hornets throwback jerseys the Hoppers wore Thursday night. Jeter wasn’t certain whether he wore No. 13 or No. 31 with Greensboro.
“You’ll have to look it up,” he said. “It’s probably in your archives.”
“Funny thing about that,” I said. “It’s a long story, but we lost a bunch of our own stuff a few years ago. We don’t have any evidence at all in our archives that you, or Don Mattingly, or Jorge Posada, or anyone before 2000 ever played here.”
Jeter grinned and laughed.
“You should’ve told me that sooner,” Jeter deadpanned. “You remember what I said about those 56 errors? Yeah, that didn’t happen. I made six, yeah, six errors that season. Go with that.”
Baseball and the Fourth of July go together. Or at least they usually do.
But the Marlins' struggles on the field this year have carried over to the box office. Miami ranks dead last in home attendance among MLB’s 30 teams.
And on July 4, well, it was no different.
The Marlins beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-0, led by a pair of Hoppers alumni. José Ureña struck out six in five shutout innings, and J.T. Riddle went 3-for-4 with a triple, a home run and two RBIs.
Just 7,572 paid to see it.
Meanwhile in Greensboro, the Hoppers drew a standing-room-only crowd of 9,063, a full 1,491 more than the parent club.
The Hoppers beat Lakewood when Garvis Lara tripled to start the seventh inning and broke a 3-3 tie when he scored on Thomas Jones’ sacrifice fly. Daniel Castano (2-0) struck out seven in seven innings.
Greensboro leads the 14-team Sally League in total attendance and averages 4,817 per home game. Miami averages 9,753.
Coastal Plain League
The Hi-Toms (17-12) are a playoff team again, clinching the first-half title in the Coastal Plain League’s West Division this week.
The Hi-Toms, who play home games at Thomasville’s Finch Field, have made the playoffs 12 times since 2003 and won three Pettit Cup championships.
The team also placed four players in the Coastal Plain League’s midseason All-Star Show, which will be held Sunday and Monday in Lexington, S.C. The CPL skills challenge (pitching, hitting, bunting) will be held Sunday, and the All-Star game is at 7:35 p.m. Monday.
First baseman Zach McLean (A&T), third baseman Austin Pharr (Columbus State) and outfielder Myles Christian (Middle Tennessee) were all voted onto the National roster. Designated hitter Manny Lopez (Middle Tennessee) won a fan vote for the last spot.
The Coastal Plain League is an elite wooden-bat summer league for college players who want to keep their amateur status. Its season stretches from late May through early August.