FORT MYERS, Florida (CBS) — Red Sox fans are hurting from the loss of Mookie Betts. But they’re intrigued by what prospect Jeter Downs can bring to the organization — not to mention that first name.
Downs immediately became Boston’s top-rated prospect after being acquired from the Dodgers, but anyone with the first name “Jeter” is going to be met with some resistance in Boston. Yes, the 21-year-old is named after the Yankees Hall of Famer, and yes, he grew up a Yankees fan.
He won’t be changing his first name, so Boston fans need to get used to rooting for a Jeter. But Downs made it clear on Wednesday that he’s already lost his love for pinstripes now that his socks are red.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to win if the Yankees are on the other side,” he told reporters at the team’s spring training facility in Fort Myers.
Downs was one of the many positional players to take part in some drills on Wednesday, even if the team won’t have its first full-squad workout until Monday. The infielder took some cuts in the cage, showing off the swing that clubbed 24 homers in 119 minor league games in 2019.
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He also explained that his mother gave him his first name, because of her love of Derek Jeter. He inherited her love of No. 2, idolizing the Yankees legend throughout his life.
“She just loved Jeter and how he was and the way he played the game, so she gave me the name,” said Downs. “I idolized him, just the way he played, the way he went about the game and the things he did, how he was respected by every single team. It was pretty cool as a kid. Whatever team you were for, it was just cool to watch a guy like that play the game.”
Downs did reveal that his father is a Red Sox fan. Clearly, Mr. Downs lost naming rights to his second son.
Surprisingly, Downs had never met the man he was named after until last week, just before he was traded to the Red Sox. He and his brother, Jerry, who is also a prospect in the Boston organization, were on their way to train with former Marlins and Yankees star Raul Ibanez in Miami when they noticed a familiar face in the car next to them.
“We’re in traffic, my brother sees this Range Rover pulling up and he’s like, ‘Oh my God, is that Jeter?’” Downs relayed. “He honks and I wave at him (Jeter). I was going to train with Raul Ibanez, so I called Raul and I was like, ‘Yo, tell Jeter the kid that was waving at him was Jeter.’ So then he told him that and it was pretty cool that I met him. And now look.”
A chance encounter from a car window isn’t the best way to meet your idol, but Downs was OK with it. And a few days later, when one of Downs’ friends met Jeter at a golf event in Florida, he got to chat with the Hall of Famer via FaceTime.
“We talked for like two minutes,” he said. “I idolized him my whole life, so then to finally get to meet him and talk to him a little bit, it was definitely special.”
Downs, the No. 44 prospect in all of baseball, figures to be a part of Boston’s future at some point in the next few years. He received a non-roster invite to spring training this year, and currently owns a locker in the JetBlue Park clubhouse between veterans JD Martinez and Mitch Moreland.
Losing one of the best players in the game is a tough pill to swallow for Red Sox fans. Acquiring a guy named after one of Boston’s biggest nemesis in the deal didn’t really make things any better. But if Downs can live up to his namesake while in a Red Sox uniform, Boston fans may hold a little less hatred toward the move.