Dominican Jeter? How the career paths of Fernando Tatis Jr. and The Captain intersect

Before Fernando Tatis Jr. rose to major league fame and became one of the faces of baseball, he was another Dominican Republic teenager — albeit one with a big league pedigree. Before signing his first contract with the Chicago White Sox, Tatis impressed Marco Paddy, the club’s international scouting director, with his desire to become “the Dominican Derek Jeter.”

It remains a goal he has stuck to all these years. “When I see Derek Jeter, I see respect, and that’s what I want to be,” Tatis told ESPN’s Jeff Passan in 2020.

If Tatis makes his debut in 2022 after recovering from a wrist injury, that moment will mark the beginning of an abbreviated fourth season with the San Diego Padres. In 1998, Jeter’s fourth year with the New York Yankees culminated in a four-game World Series win over San Diego, as detailed in the second episode of the ESPN Films documentary The Captain.

It’s presumptuous to assume that Tatis will end his fourth season the same way — even after the Padres’ big acquisitions — but there’s plenty of reason to believe Tatis will continue to build a resume on par with Jeter.

When the Padres visited the Miami Marlins in late July 2020, Tatis hit his 30th homer of the season, reaching the mark after just 82 games. He became only the third shortstop to hit 30 homers in a season before the age of 23. Jeter, the Marlins’ CEO at the time, gave Tatis the proverbial tip before the game.

“He can do anything,” Jeter said. “He’s a lot of fun to watch, whether it’s defense, offense or running the bases.

After the Padres acquired Tatis in a 2016 trade with the White Sox for pitcher James Shields, hype quickly built within the organization when Tatis broke through the minors.

“The first time I saw him play was at a Prospects game at Petco Park in 2017,” said Padres outfielder Wil Myers, the longest-serving player on the San Diego squad. “I remember thinking, ‘This guy is the real deal.’ He’s the most dynamic player I’ve seen up close in my career.”

A comparison of both shortstops at the beginning of their respective careers shows similarities that point positively towards Tatis. In his first three full seasons with the Padres, Tatis posted a 13.6 WAR. In Jeter’s first three years with the Yankees, his tally was 7.9, though he outplayed Tatis in 58 games. Jeter hit .300 during that span while Tatis had a batting average of .293. In terms of performance, the Padres shortstop has stomped 81 homers on Jeters’ 20.

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After a dramatic, fairytale final night playing at Yankee Stadium, Derek Jeter jumps into a new post-baseball life.

When it came to the all-important intangibles, Jeter’s work ethic was legendary.

“When it comes to leading by example, you couldn’t do better than Derek Jeter,” Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner told MLB.com. “His work ethic, the way he acted, the things he said, never exist [anyone] better.”

Likewise, Tatis’ willingness to put in the work to get better over the years hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I admire his work ethic,” said Junior Lake, who plays for the Tijuana Toros of the Mexican league and is a former Tatis teammate in the Winter League. “He’s the type of player who plays the same game every day.”

Those qualities and Tatis’ early returns prompted the Padres to offer a landmark $340 million 14-year extension ahead of the 2021 season. At the press conference announcing the deal, Tatis explained why he made such a long commitment at the age of 21.

“I want that statue,” he told reporters, referring in part to the bronze sculpture of the late Padres legend Tony Gwynn, who forever watches over Petco Park behind right center field.

In summoning Gwynn and idolizing Jeter, it’s clear that Tatis aspires to follow a similar path – both Gwynn and Jeter played for an organization during their respective careers en route to Cooperstown.

This sense of loyalty and belonging extends throughout all of Tatis’ professional endeavors. In the Dominican Republic’s winter league, Tatis has played exclusively for Estrellas Orientales in his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris. Led by Fernando Tatis Sr., the team won the 2018-19 league crown, overcoming a 51-year drought in the process.

“Fernando and his father came to the stadium together and went straight to the manager’s office to watch videos and talk about the next game,” said Lake, who was a member of that team. “There are a lot of players who have that talent and skill, but that [work ethic] is what sets Fernando apart.”

Off the field, Tatis also appears to be following in Jeter’s footsteps as one of the most visible — and marketable — ballers of the past quarter-century. Tatis achieved video game fame when he graced the cover of MLB2K in 2021, a feat Jeter accomplished three years in a row between 2005 and 2007.

When Gatorade Tatis signed an endorsement deal in 2020, the brand’s head of sports marketing, Jeff Kearney, compared the Padres star to Jeter himself.

“Jeter had such a swagger,” Kearney told CNBC. “If you walked the diamond, you just knew it was someone, and if you didn’t know who it was, you knew it mattered. I think Tatis brings that.”

Of course, there’s still one key component of Jeter’s enduring success that Tatis has yet to touch: winning the postseason. By the time Jeter was 23 — like Tatis now — he had won a World Series and batted a stellar .361 in October to help the Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves in six games. He would win another four and receive 2000 series MVP honors.

Tatis has barely sniffed the playoffs in his career, with the Padres only making the postseason once in that span. After the Padres were 4-0 down to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the 2020 NL Wild Card Series after losing the opener, Tatis hit two home runs that sparked an 11-9 win. The Padres would be promoted to the NLDS, but Tatis managed just two hits in 11 at-bats as the Los Angeles Dodgers swept San Diego.

Still, San Diego’s ongoing efforts to build a winner have taken a serious leap with this summer’s acquisitions of Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Josh Hader and Brandon Drury – giving the Padres six current or former All-Stars in time for a run after the received season. While some of the names are changing around Tatis, the superstar shortstop is poised to continue building a legacy that can match or surpass his idol.

“Obviously Derek Jeter has had a great career, but Fernando Tatis is someone who I think has the potential to do even more because of his talent for taking on a game the way he can,” Myers said.

https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34384230/dominican-jeter-how-career-paths-fernando-tatis-jr-captain-intersect Dominican Jeter? How the career paths of Fernando Tatis Jr. and The Captain intersect

Emma Bowman

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