Tampa — Derek Jeter entered the Yankees, and Oswald Peraza was no longer the Yankees’ starting shortstop.
He was once again transformed into a little kid in Venezuela who idolized the Yankees captain.
Peraza was too nervous to shake hands with Jeter, who was on the field on Sept. 9 of last year, so Bronx fans can shower him with love and congratulate No. 2 on his induction into the Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, Peraza was about to make his fifth-ever start at shortstop in the majors.
He didn’t shake hands with him, but he managed to meet his favorite player for a while.
Nine years after Jeter played his last shortstop with the Yankees, Peraza is trying to follow in his footsteps and vie for one of the most prestigious positions in sports.
“I was a Yankees fan growing up,” Peraza said Sunday through interpreter Marlon Abreu. That is why this opportunity means so much. This is the best thing that has ever happened to me – to have an opportunity like this in front of me, at hand, it means a lot.
“I’m trying to do my best.”
Peraza wasn’t at his best with the bat on Sunday, when he went 0-for-3 in a 5-3 loss to the Orioles at Steinbrenner Field, but he impressed again on the field and remains a strong candidate to be the shortstop on Opening Day.
Anthony Volpe, who sat out on Sunday, pushed Peraza in a race that Isiah Keener-Valeva appeared to have lost.
Volpe, New Jersey, has done some of it all in a hot camp posting a .990 OPS in 45 plate appearances with two home runs, four doubles and four steals.
Peraza’s Grapefruit League season has been an understatement, at least at bat.
The 22-year-old posted a .746 OPS with a home run, two doubles and two steals in 34 plate appearances.
Peraza has been working with assistant hitting coach Casey Dykes to make sure he keeps his weight back and he thinks he’s finding his timing after a slow start.
“We were watching the video today, and I actually feel like I’m getting my weight back and letting those pitches move a little bit more and I’m doing a better swing on the ball,” Peraza said.
The short horse race likely comes down to the end of camp, as the Yankees Brass are expected to reunite this week to begin cannibalizing their Game 1 roster.
A first-round pick out of Delbarton High School, Volpe may be the favorite of the local Yankees fans, but Peraza may be the favorite of the contest.
Peraza, who came through the system a level ahead of Volpi, is already on the 40-man roster and made a successful debut last season, when he hit . 306 in 18 games and looked solid on the field.
It is a short distance away from where Byraza can separate itself from Volpi.
Peraza’s arm is stronger, which he showed in the third inning on Sunday.
Baltimore’s Daz Cameron, with great speed, was at third base with one out, and the Yankees pitch was put into it.
Throwing the putt to Peraza’s right, Anthony Bembom hit the ball with his backhand and quickly threw to the plate.
“When Oswald first started coming home, I was like, ‘No,’” said manager Aaron Boone. “I didn’t think he was going to have a play.”
The pitching was strong, and catcher Carlos Narváez made a good tag out.
“Excellent play,” said rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole, who at first was only pleased. Peraza sent a shot at 102.2 mph. “Just getting this is great.”
Peraza’s goal coming into this spring was to break camp with the team, and odds are long that the Yankees will enter the season with both of them on the roster.
Barring a trade for Gleyber Torres, the Volpe prospect and Hot Springs hitter will likely stand up to Peraza’s defensive supremacy and solid offensive surge.
It’s not lost on Peraza that being the Yankees’ everyday shortstop comes with responsibility and added weight.
There’s Legacies in center field and short, where Jeter and Phil Rizzuto have roamed.
“There is some additional pressure on it,” Peraza said. “But honestly after my experience last year…just being a part of that club and the people around me made it fun.”
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