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Jeter takes center stage in Yankees' first workout

Fans' applause, Girardi's attention on shortstop as he begins final season

TAMPA, Fla. -- The first full-squad workout of Spring Training is always a magnet for promise and potential, when every team is tied for first place in the standings and every player seems to proclaim that they have reported in the best shape of their lives.

As Derek Jeter bounced up the steps of the first-base dugout at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Thursday, showered with the loudest cheers of the afternoon, it was a reminder that this spring will also represent something of a victory lap for the Yankees captain.

"I've always looked forward to getting back on the field," Jeter said. "It felt like every first [day of] Spring Training, with the exception of last season. It's good to get back on the field after the whole offseason."

Jeter's last tour of big league duty has become the overwhelming hot topic in Yankees camp, though certainly a fair share of attention has been paid to the arrival of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and his seven-year, $155 million contract.

Those two storylines have overshadowed what was a very busy winter for the Yankees. Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran all appeared on the field together for the first time Thursday, sporting their new uniforms and representing a combined $283 million in salary commitments.

Their entrances were applauded, of course, but judging by the banners and cries from the announced crowd of 1,338 that spent Thursday soaking up the sunshine -- it would have been a tall order to steal this day from Jeter.

"I actually said that to someone: pretty good buzz here at the stadium today," manager Joe Girardi said. "And I know I only saw half the field, because we had a workout going on, on the field too, so I thought that was good."

Girardi said that he has tried to spread his attention to everyone in camp, but he couldn't help but steal a few glances at Jeter on Thursday, silently judging the shortstop's gait in sprints and looking for signs of discomfort.

"I would say last year at times, just going through what you might consider everyday activity and jogs, running the bases -- you would notice it," Girardi said. "Today, it looked like he never got hurt."

Jeter agreed, saying that his surgically repaired left ankle is no longer a concern. Jeter spent four months this offseason training his lower half, a luxury that he didn't have last year, when he had a walking boot removed in January and re-injured his ankle in March.

"Everything is good," Jeter said, knocking his knuckles against the wood of his clubhouse locker. "Like I told you, I've been working extremely hard to get my strength back. I feel like it's back, I feel strong, so it's not an issue in my mind. I don't think about it."

Observers have noted that Jeter looks younger in photographs than he did last season. He's certainly lighter: Jeter said that he tried to eat better and spent a lot of time doing cardio exercises, reporting to camp at 194 pounds -- five pounds lighter than his usual playing weight.

"I did a lot of conditioning, a lot of running," said Jeter, who also worked out on a stationary bicycle. "I wanted to be a little lighter, take some pressure off my legs and move around a little bit better."

As a result, Girardi said that the Yankees have few restrictions on Jeter at this point. Jeter is not likely to play in the first exhibition on Feb. 25 against Florida State University, but the shortstop should be almost a full-go from the early part of camp.

"One thing I've learned here is that it's not important to be ready for the first Spring Training game," Jeter said. "It's important to be ready for Opening Day."

After spending most of last spring in the trainers' room, Girardi said that he wants Jeter to have "a normal Spring Training." That would probably see him play three days in a row at some point and go into the season with about 60 Grapefruit League at-bats.

"I believe in my mind that would be a realistic goal, but I have to take it day by day," Girardi said.

Jeter said that one of the biggest changes he plans to make this spring is to not fast-forward through Spring Training. The workouts can be a grind -- for example, Jeter has never looked forward to the running drills, and that still hasn't changed.

But the captain said that it is important for him to stop looking forward to when things are over with. As he now knows for sure, those days will come soon enough on their own.

"I always try to have fun when I'm on the field. I try to enjoy myself," Jeter said. "I think the point of this season is, every time I'm doing something, it's the last time that I'm going to be doing it -- just not looking forward to it being over, especially Spring Training."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
Read More: New York Yankees, Derek Jeter