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Jeter, meet Jeter: Downs' chance encounter

How Boston's newest prospect finally met his Hall of Fame namesake
@IanMBrowne
February 12, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- What a week it has been for Red Sox shortstop prospect Jeter Downs. One day, he had a chance encounter at a stoplight with his idol, whom he had never met. You know, that guy he was named after.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- What a week it has been for Red Sox shortstop prospect Jeter Downs.

One day, he had a chance encounter at a stoplight with his idol, whom he had never met. You know, that guy he was named after.

A few days later, as Downs was preparing to report for big league camp with the Dodgers, his world was turned upside down when he was traded to Boston for Mookie Betts and David Price.

Downs, who sounds extremely poised and comfortable for a 21-year-old in the spotlight, recounted both events to a barrage of media members in the Red Sox's clubhouse on Wednesday morning.

So the man named after Derek Jeter by his baseball-crazed mother -- even though his father is a Red Sox fan -- had never actually met Derek Jeter?

It finally happened last week in a random encounter on a road in South Florida -- sort of.

“This last week, I was driving, me and my brother were driving to go to [the] train,” said Downs. “We’re in traffic. My brother sees this Range Rover pulling up. He was like, ‘Oh my God, is that Jeter?’ He honks and I wave at him.

“I’m doing training with Raul Ibanez, [Jeter’s former teammate]. I called Raul and said, ‘Tell [Derek] Jeter that the kid he was waving at was Jeter [Downs].’ So then he told him that and it was pretty cool that I met him that way.”

The real fun was yet to come.

“A couple days later, the Marlins had an event at Topgolf. One of my friends was there,” Downs said. “He FaceTimed me with Jeter on the phone. We talked for like two minutes.

“It was [surreal]. I’ve idolized him my whole life. It was finally good to meet him and talk to him a little bit. It was definitely special.”

Just days later, Downs -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 44 overall prospect -- found himself in the middle of a trade for the second time in less than 14 months. So much for Dodger blue.

“Honestly, I was on the way to the airport to Arizona to report for Spring Training,” said Downs. “They called me and told me what was happening. At the end of the day, it’s pretty cool to be a part of something this big, but you’ve still got to go out and play baseball. I try not to think of it as that big of a deal and just try to focus on the things I need to do.”

The Red Sox obviously believe in Downs, a middle infielder with a power bat. Typically, prospects -- especially non-roster invitees -- are stationed in the back corner of the clubhouse, way out of sight, and given a jersey in the 60s, 70s or even 80s.

But Downs was handed No. 20, and his locker is in a central part of the clubhouse between veterans J.D. Martinez and Mitch Moreland. Obviously, the Sox want him to absorb as much as he can while he is in camp, given that he is sure to start the season in the Minor Leagues.

“It’s cool to be rewarded for doing a good job, so now it’s time to learn from these guys and get better,” said Downs.

While Downs was dealt for a prominent enough player last year in Yasiel Puig, getting traded for Betts takes it up another notch.

“It’s cool to be traded for arguably a top-five player in the game,” said Downs. “But it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t go out and do my job. I still have to go out and perform and play well. Things could be talked about after.”

A big side benefit of the trade for Downs is that his older brother Jerry is also in the Red Sox’s farm system, though not in big league camp.

“I was playing catch with him and I was like, ‘Wow, we’re wearing the same uniform.’ It’s pretty surreal that things turned around like this,” said Downs. “We always mentioned it, ‘It would be pretty cool to play on the same team with you.’ But we didn’t think of it that far. Now it’s come to fruition.”

One member of the family is extremely psyched.

“Oh my God, my dad was a Red Sox fan, so he’s so happy that both of us are here now,” said Downs.

It’s no surprise, however, that someone named Jeter did not follow his dad’s team loyalty when he was growing up.

“I’m going to be a completely honest, I was a Yankees fan,” Downs said, “but now I’m going to do everything in my power to win if the Yankees are on the other side -- or whoever it is.”

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.