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Amid rivalry, Red Sox acknowledge Jeter's impact

Boston's players and manager share memories of squaring off against Yanks captain

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Even for Derek Jeter's top rival, it wasn't easy to hear that the iconic shortstop will be retiring at the end of the 2014 season.

"In some ways, it's bittersweet," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "I think we all have enjoyed watching him play and the way he's carried himself, the way he's performed in between the lines.

"And yet you realize that players don't go on forever. I guess in a word, he epitomizes the word professional, in just the success he's had and the way he's conducted himself on and off the field in a city like New York, and to do it in the style that he has. He's synonymous with winning and just a Yankee legend."

Before he became a manager in 2011, Farrell spent four years as a pitching coach knowing firsthand how tough it was to devise an approach against Jeter.

"Oh, like many good hitters, you couldn't take the same approach each time," Farrell said. "You had to find ways to stay ahead of him and his thought process. He was just a model of consistency. When you think of the guy, he's 10th on the all-time hit list, he's 120 [hits from] becoming the No. 6 guy. All things wrapped up in one, you're talking about elite performance, durability, a long-term career and a [multiple-time World Series] champion. He sets the bar for the way guys go about their game."

The Red Sox will have the honor of being the opponent in Jeter's final Major League regular-season game, slated for Sept. 28 at Fenway Park.

"If it wasn't in New York, maybe it's fitting that it's in Boston, given the number of series he's played both the regular season and postseason," Farrell said. "He was in the middle of a rivalry for 20 years."

During his years as a catcher, Mike Napoli remembered the sometimes helpless feeling of putting fingers down for his pitcher with Jeter at the plate.

"I was hoping he'd get himself out," said Napoli. "I remember calling the game the way he stayed inside the ball. Hopefully, he was getting himself out, rolling over a pitch or popping something up. He's always a tough out. You knew he was going to give you a tough at-bat every time up."

Though Jeter always had a fierce desire to win, his respect for his opponents is something that stood out.

"Just the type of he player he was to everyone, whether you were a rookie or 10-year vet," said Red Sox left fielder Daniel Nava. "I know for me, he knew that was my first season in 2010, and he said congrats and everything like that the first time I talked to him when I was on base. It means a lot when it's your first time. We had a lot of rookies on the team, and they all said the same thing."

If Clay Buchholz dominated the Yankees on a Friday night at Fenway, Jeter was probably there around the batting cage on Saturday giving him kind words about the performance.

"The last couple years, it's, 'Hey, Buch, how you doing? Good start last night,' or whatever," said Buchholz. "It's never been sit-down dinner or anything, but he's always been really personable to me."

It's one thing to be a perennial All-Star. It's quite another to handle it with the dignity Jeter always did.

"There wasn't one person in the game who disliked him in any way," said Buchholz. "He was as down to earth as down to earth gets. For somebody to be the captain of that team and that franchise for as long as he was there, being able to keep everything on an even-keel, do everything as a professional, it was pretty special."

As tough an opponent as Jeter is, you get the feeling the Red Sox will miss going against him.

"It's kind of sad to see this is his last year," Napoli said. "But my God, if you're growing up and looking at a professional athlete, you'd probably want to take a good look at his career and how he handled it."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.
Read More: Boston Red Sox, Mike Napoli, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Nava