TAMPA, Fla. — Derek Jeter said he was not concerned about his surgically repaired left ankle on the eve of his scheduled Grapefruit League debut Thursday, 501 days after he shattered it.
General Manager Brian Cashman is not worried, either. He is more focused on the threat of rain than on Jeter’s health. But until Jeter plays in games — many games — no one knows how his ankle and legs will respond. Not even Mark Teixeira.
Teixeira sustained a similar ankle injury while playing at Georgia Tech. If Jeter’s recovery is anything like Teixeira’s, he may not fully heal until after he retires. Jeter has said 2014 will be his final season, and some of it may be spent compensating for playing through soreness or weakness.
“I wasn’t right for two years,” Teixeira said.
Teixeira was 20 was he was hurt; Jeter is attempting to come back at 39.
It was late on the night of Oct. 13, 2012, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series when Jeter’s ankle gave way on the infield dirt as he dived for a ground ball, sending an agonized hush across Yankee Stadium. Later, after that game ended in a 12-inning loss to the Detroit Tigers, Teixeira was in the clubhouse checking in on Jeter. He knew the injury was serious, but he did not know its extent until a few days later, when Jeter had surgery.
When Teixeira found out, he thought, “Hmm, that sounds familiar.”
“When I saw him go down, I knew something was really wrong,” Teixeira said. “But I had no idea what it was, exactly, because it was kind of an awkward play. He just went down. When I heard later about the surgery, I knew it was the same thing.”
In February 2001, a few weeks before his 21st birthday, Teixeira was a junior third baseman playing against Elon. He drifted back into shallow left field for a pop-up, and two other players also headed for the ball. Before colliding, though, they abruptly shifted away from one another.
A spike in Teixeira’s right shoe grabbed in the turf, and his ankle shattered, requiring comprehensive surgery. Screws were placed in the ankle, and he was not able to play for months. He returned at the end of the season to play in the final nine games, but his ankle had not fully healed.
It was not until after the 2004 season, he said, that the screws were taken out because they were irritating the tissue in the ankle.
“In the 2005 season, after the screws were out, that’s when I said, ‘Oh, O.K., I feel good now,’ ” Teixeira said. “You know, I used to be a pretty good runner. But I have never been a fast runner in the big leagues, because of that ankle. It took away any kind of speed in my game. That was gone.”
But Teixeira says Jeter’s age may help him play through the injury. Jeter does not have to worry about the rest of his career the way Teixeira did. There should be no impulse to preserve the ankle for the future.
“I think Derek’s going to have a great year,” Teixeira said. “As a 21-year-old, you hope to have a nice long career. As a 39-year-old that’s saying this is your last year, maybe you do play through some things. You’re sore. Who cares? So what if it’s sore the rest of the year? You play through.”
Jeter also has medical science on his side. According to Dr. Craig Levitz, the chief of sports medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital on Long Island, almost every aspect of that ankle surgery has changed since Teixeira had his procedure in 2001.
“Everything is different now,” Levitz said. “The surgical equipment, the techniques, the treatment, the rehab, the titanium material used in the plate and the screws. Everything.”
Levitz said that a year after the operation, the bone is actually stronger. The key issue for anyone coming back from a foot or ankle injury is the way it can affect other parts of the body, from the calf to the shoulder. For a professional athlete like Jeter, who has been playing nonstop for decades, the body has trouble restarting after such a prolonged period of inactivity.
That is what happened to Jeter last year when calf and quad injuries forced him back to the disabled list, limiting him to 17 games. Teixeira’s experience told him the same thing.
“That’s the best advice I could give someone,” Teixeira said. “Make sure you pay attention to the rest of your body. Because that ankle will mess up the rest of your body, if you let it.”
Jeter said he felt much better this year than he did in 2013, when he rebroke the ankle in spring training.
“I was in a training room every day,” he said of spring training 2013, adding, “This year, it’s just working out, and playing games.”
Derek Jeter said on the YES Network that his ultimate goal was to own a team one day. … The Yankees lost to the Pirates, 6-5, in their Grapefruit League opener. … Brian Cashman said that he would carefully watch second baseman Brian Roberts and third baseman Kelly Johnson to assess whether they were capable of helping the team and that he was open to finding alternatives, as long as they were inexpensive. “We spent our money,” he said. …Masahiro Tanaka threw his final bullpen session before his scheduled spring training debut Saturday.
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