DAVIE, Fla. – A Red Sox fan would never name his son after Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, right?
Except, that is exactly what happened 18 years ago on the Caribbean island of San Andres, which is part of the nation of Colombia.
That bouncing baby boy, Jeter Downs, has grown up to be a shortstop – of course! – and he’s ranked No. 76 by Baseball America in its assessment of all 2017 MLB Draft prospects.
Downs, a senior at Miami-area Monsignor Pace, is batting .388 with four doubles, four triples, seven homers and 24 steals.
Scouts like him because he does a good job of checking all five boxes – he can hit, he has power and speed, and he’s a good defender with a strong arm.
“His parents were prophetic when they named him Jeter and he became a shortstop,” said Jerry Albert, who coaches a rival school, Miami’s Belen Jesuit. “We’ve played against him for the past few years, and he’s terrific.
“He’s the complete package.”
Downs’ father, Jerry Sr., said his wife, Lucila Michelle, came up with the name Jeter back in 1998, which is when the Yankees star was starting to come of age. He became a first-time All-Star that year and won his second World Series.
Jerry and Lucila named their first son Jerry Jr., and both of their boys have become baseball players. Jerry, who went to an NAIA school, Miami’s St. Thomas University, was a 15th-round pick last year.
Fittingly, perhaps, Downs was drafted by and signed with the Red Sox, which thrilled his father.
But, in truth, any team would’ve been fine with Jerry Sr.
“God gave me two wonderful boys who play the sport I love,” he said. “I’m grateful.”
Jerry Sr., 47, was a pro pitcher in Colombia, and he still throws batting practice to his boys whenever he has a chance.
But he never signed with a major-league organization, and perhaps that had at least something to do with where he comes from, a remote island with a history that includes tales of pirates as well as settlers from Spain, England, Netherlands and Wales.
Jerry Jr. was nine and Jeter was five when the family moved to Miami, settling in an area known as “Little Havana,” just two blocks from Marlins Park.
“In middle school, every time I wasn’t playing, I would buy a $10 ticket and sit up in the nosebleed seats at Marlins Park,” Jeter said. “That’s where you need a magnifying glass to see the game.”
These days, Downs is busy playing his own games, and there’s often no time to get out to Marlins Park.
But he does watch major-leaguers as often as possible with two of his favorites being Cleveland Indians All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and Seattle Mariners seven-time All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano.
Downs’ biggest role model, though, is his brother, even though they couldn’t be more different in several ways.
Jeter is right-handed, and Jerry is left-handed.
Jeter plays a speed game at shortstop, and Jerry is a first baseman and corner outfielder who hits for power.
Jeter is 6-0 and 180 pounds while Jerry is 6-2 and 215 pounds.
Versatility, Jeter said, is his forte.
“If I don’t have a good game at the plate, I can help on defense or vice versa,” said Downs, who has a 3.3 grade-point average and is interested in becoming an entrepreneur. “I feel I also have the speed to drop a bunt down and steal a couple of bases.”
Jerry Sr., by the way, said Jeter is the better athlete of his two sons.
“Jeter has the perfect tools,” Jerry Sr. said. “You could put Jeter anywhere on defense, and he would do well.”
It wouldn’t be a shock if both brothers play for Colombia in the 2021 World Baseball Classic – “That would be my dream,” Jerry Sr. said – but there is work to be done before that can happen.
For the younger of the Downs boys, winning a state title for Pace is high on his to-do list. Then he will have to decide if he will play for the University of Miami next season or sign with whatever team drafts him.
Any team that selects him would be fine, Downs said, but he added that he doesn’t root for the Marlins or the Red Sox, the two franchises that would make sense given where he lives and who his father and brother support.
Downs is a Yankees fan … as if a kid named Jeter could choose to root for any other club.