CLEVELAND – On a tradition-filled day, Derek Jeter was back at shortstop and batting leadoff for the New York Yankees.
It doesn't get much more fireworks and hot dogs than that.
Sidelined since June 13 with a calf injury, Jeter was activated from the 15-day disabled list Monday to continue his quest to reach 3,000 career hits. He went 0 for 4, reaching on an error and played error free in the field in the Yankees' 6-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
"I felt fine, no problems, no issues," Jeter said. "I was nervous at the beginning, almost like it was opening day again. It was just nerves. Three weeks is definitely a long time to be out. I felt better as the game went on."
Manager Joe Girardi didn't hesitate writing Jeter's name at the top of his lineup card.
"It's easy to put him back in there. It's like he never left," Girardi said. "You just put him right back in there."
The Yankees' captain, named to his 12th All-Star team Sunday, needs six more hits to become the 28th major leaguer to reach 3,000. Although he has struggled this season, batting just .260 in 62 games, Jeter is also just a few swings from becoming the first player in New York's storied history to eclipse 3,000 — a distinction that would separate the 37-year-old from all previous pinstriped greats.
Jeter said he hasn't spent a moment dwelling on the milestone, which will only add to a Cooperstown-worthy resume.
Jeter said he and Girardi will discuss how he'll be used in upcoming games.
"I want him to get to 3,000 as soon as he can," Girardi said. "I'm going to manage him more from a physical standpoint than 3,000 hits."
Jeter's absence was felt way beyond the boxscore.
"You miss his leadership and his consistency on a daily basis," Girardi said.
To make room for Jeter, the Yankees optioned outfielder Chris Dickerson to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dickerson batted .300 (6 for 20) in 31 games for New York.
As he dressed before the game, Jeter quietly chatted with former major leaguer Bobby Bonilla, who now works for the players' union. Alex Rodriguez walked into the Yankees' clubhouse after getting a haircut and faked being surprised when he walked up to Jeter, who shared a hug with his teammate.
Jeter was eligible to come off the DL last week, but needed more time to strengthen his calf. The AL East-leading Yankees went 14-4 without him and young shortstop Eduardo Nunez showed he may be the one who one day replaces Jeter. Nunez went 7 for 8 with a homer and three doubles in two weekend games against the Mets.
Jeter said before the game it wasn't disappointing to see the Yankees thrive without him.
"I wish they went 18-0," he said. "We did a great job, especially in interleague play. Hopefully, it will continue."
Jeter signed a three-year, $51 million contract this winter but he is clearly on the decline. There has been renewed debate about how long the Yankees should wait before moving one of the most popular players in Yankees history out of the top of the lineup. Jeter said he doesn't feel any pressure to perform in the season's second half to silence critics.
"I don't try to prove anything to anyone," he said. "I try to help my team win. There's been constant questions. It's nothing new to me. I try not to pay attention to it (criticism) and try to improve."
Asked what he needed to work on this season, Jeter said, "Everything."
"I need to be a little more consistent than I have been," he said. "I can't change anything that has happened in the past. I've been criticized before. I take it as a challenge."
Girardi said the time off could serve Jeter well.
"A lot of times guys come back and they get their legs back under you," Girardi said. "I hope it works out that way."