Downs soaks up Fenway buzz in MLB debut

June 23rd, 2022

BOSTON -- As No. 5 Red Sox prospect Jeter Downs stepped in for the final at-bat of his Major League debut on Wednesday, he found out what it was like to have a crowd of 35,180 try and will him to his first career hit.

“Let’s go, Jeter. Let’s go, Jeter,” the Fenway faithful said repeatedly.

Ultimately, it was not to be, as Downs went 0-for-4 with a flyout to the warning track in left and three strikeouts during Boston's 6-2 win over the Tigers. Downs handled his two chances cleanly at third base -- a position he had never played at the professional level.

Downs was blown away by the experience of playing at the highest level, and by the fans roaring something at Fenway Park that would have been unthinkable from 1996-2014.

“Yeah, that was insane,” Downs said.” I had to step out and take a deep breath. I never had something like that happen before. So, yeah, that was definitely surreal to have the whole Fenway chanting my name, chanting for a Jeter.”

Earlier in the day, the legend himself, Derek Jeter, tweeted his good luck to the kid who was born in the middle of a Yankees dynasty in 1998.

So locked in on getting ready to play in the Majors for the first time, Downs wasn’t aware of the love from Jeter until after the game.

“I saw it right now. Somebody just showed it to me. That’s pretty cool,” Downs said. “I met him a few years ago, and to have him tweet that out, he was my idol growing up. I was named after him, of course. Literally, I watched every single game I could when he was playing, the way he went about his business. That was super cool. I thank him for that.”

The Jeter-Jeter meeting was a chance encounter at a stoplight in South Florida in the winter of 2020 just weeks before Downs was traded from the Dodgers to the Red Sox as part of the trade that sent Mookie Betts to L.A.

Downs has spent the past couple of years acclimating to the Red Sox's organization, something he admitted wasn’t easy at first with all of the COVID-19 protocols in place.

The jury is still out on what kind of player Downs can be. He is hitting .180 at Triple-A Worcester this season, though he’s thrown in some pop (11 homers) and speed (11 stolen bases).

Downs got the callup for this three-game series against the Tigers for a couple of reasons: The first is that MLB mandated that all teams carry a maximum of 13 pitchers on the roster by Monday. The second is that Boston is short a couple of position players, with Kiké Hernández on the injured list and Christian Arroyo on the COVID-19-related injured list.

With Arroyo expected to return for the start of the road trip on Friday in Cleveland, Downs headed back to Worcester on Thursday before the Red Sox took the field again.

But that didn’t take anything away from the experience for the shortstop who played at the hot corner for a night.

For this one night, the pressure of trying to live up to the scouting reports took a break as Downs soaked in the experience.

“That was the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Downs said. “I still can’t believe the game is over. It felt so fast. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted to, but oh well. The team got the win, and that’s the most important thing.”

A Major League debut is something everyone in the clubhouse can relate to.

“Oh my God. I could remember [my debut last year] just watching him,” said Red Sox center fielder Jarren Duran. “It was fun to hit behind him because I wasn't even taking practice swings. I was like, ‘Come on, Jeter, come on, Jeter.’ Every time he hit a ball hard, I'm like, ‘Stay fair!’ But it's baseball. It's hard. He just came up to the big leagues, and he'll get it. He's an absolute stud. I'm not worried about him at all.”

Downs showed his ability to learn on the fly when he took grounders at third base on Tuesday, and again on Wednesday, and looked natural once he got in there for a game on a night the Sox rested star slugger Rafael Devers. Downs made a slick play on Javier Báez to end the first and ranged nicely to his left to make a play on Spencer Torkelson to end the second.

“Honestly, it felt pretty comfortable,” Downs said. “I took the advice the guys gave me and just go out there and be an athlete and play like you’re playing short, and that’s what I did.”

A few minutes after Downs spoke with the media, he returned to his locker with manager Alex Cora’s official lineup card.

How did Cora assess the debut of Downs?

“Good. Two ground balls [on defense],” Cora said. “He made a nice play right away. He hit a ball hard to left field, the last one down the line [that was foul]. He did what we needed at third base, and he’s a big leaguer.”