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Jeter earns respect of Boston fans

So now we sit and wait for Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit. I pray he gets the milestone in timely fashion. No one wants the distraction that comes when a player sits on 2,999 for too many games. We had that with Carl Yastrzemski in Boston back in 1979. We were all doing time on the Yaz Watch and the inimitable Peter Pascarelli, then with the Baltimore News American, said, "This is like waiting for Franco to die.''

After three days and an 0-13 slump, Yaz finally got No. 3,000 when Yankee second baseman Willie Randolph waved at a grounder headed for rightfield.

Sox fans have a love-hate relationship with Jeter. As years pass and he becomes less of a threat and more of a legend, he'll get even better treatment from Boston fans. They appreciate a worthy adversary, especially once he stops killing their team.

But still, Jeter is a Yankee and, in Boston, the Yankees (bleep).

There will always be nasty T-shirts regarding Jeter when the Yankees come to Fenway.

It all goes back to the late 1990s when Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra were young American League All-Star shortstops. It had a Joe DiMaggio-Ted Williams feel to it. Like DiMaggio, Jeter was winning all the championships and establishing himself as a quiet leader. Like Williams, Nomar was clearly the better offensive player. Nomar was a righty hitter who batted .357 and .372 in 1999 and 2000, respectively. He banged balls off the Green Monster. Defensively he could be a little erratic, but he was daring. Sox fans loved "No-maaah" and hated Jeter. "No-maaah" was better. No doubt about it.

Everything changed on July 1, 2004.

That was the night that Nomar -- hater of all things Boston by this time -- asked out of the Sox lineup for the final game of a big series with the Yankees. Nomar was in the last year of his contract, loathed the new Boston owners and wanted to get out of town. So he sat. He was sitting in the third base dugout when Jeter went after a foul pop and lunged headfirst into the stands, catching the ball, and emerging with a bloody chin. Still, Nomar sat. The Yankees won in 13 innings, the Sox traded Nomar a month later and are still looking for an everyday shortstop.

While the Sox have auditioned Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro, Jeter has stayed the course, Ripken-like, for the Yankees. Sox fans have transferred their hatred of Jeter to Alex Rodriguez.

There will always be fans in Boston who will boo Jeter, but a lot of the smart ones tell their sons, "Watch Derek Jeter. You want to play like him and conduct yourself like him.''

Jeter's comportment makes him unlike almost anyone who's ever been part of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. He was never jealous of Nomar, the way Thurman Munson was jealous of Carlton Fisk. He never bragged about himself like Reggie Jackson. He would never get into a fistfight at home plate with Jason Varitek. He left that role to A-Rod.

For 16 seasons (and three memorable postseasons) Jeter's been coming to our town and there's never been a crumb of sandal or embarrassment. He's heard "Yankees (expletive)" and "Jeter (expletive)", quite a few times, but says it's gotten better over the years. Sox fans have mellowed toward their nemesis. Watching Jeter now is like watching Al Kaline coming into town with the Tigers in his finals days. Or Brooks Robinson with the Orioles. Boston fans don't hate the Tigers and Orioles the way they hate the Yankees, but they appreciate a classy, gracious ballplayer who has been trying to beat the Red Sox with dignity for more than a decade and a half.

Jeter has played more games (regular season and playoffs) against the Red Sox than any other team. He's got 34 regular-season hits against Tim Wakefield and had 29 hits against Pedro Martinez back in the days when Pedro said, "The Yankees are my daddy.''

Boston's shortstop of the future is 21 year old Jose Iglesais, a flossy-fielding Cuban who is playing at Triple-A Pawtucket this summer.

They say the kid might not be ready to hit in the big leagues for another year or two. When Iglesais finally arrives at Fenway, Derek Jeter will still be the shortstop for the Yankees.

Hope the kid watches Jeter and tries to play like him.

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