FORT MYERS, Fla. – Carrying one of the most hated sports names in Boston is already enough of a burden, so Jeter Downs won’t also try to be the guy who replaces Mookie Betts.
The former Dodgers prospect, who was named after Hall of Famer Derek Jeter by his Yankees-loving mother, was acquired in the deal that sent Betts to Los Angeles on the eve of spring training.
And he knew the question was coming.
“Obviously, I’m going to get bombarded with this whole name thing,” he said in the Red Sox clubhouse Wednesday before the team’s first formal workout of spring training. “It’s pretty cool. And I guess my mom, she knew what she was doing when she named me Jeter.”
The 21-year-old infielder was the No. 3 prospect in the Dodgers organization and the second son in his family. His older brother was named after their father, so when he was born, it was their mother’s turn.
“She just loved Jeter and how he was and the way he played the game. So she gave me the name,” Jeter Downs said. “I obviously had the name, so I kind of had to be a fan of his. I idolize him — just the way he played, the way he went about the game and the things he did and stuff like that, how he was respected by every single team.
“I don’t care like what team you’re from,” Downs said. “It’s just cool to watch a guy like that play the game and grow, you know.”
Downs said he has never met his namesake, though he did pull up next to him at a stoplight once while on his way to work out. They connected through a friend and spoke on FaceTime for a few minutes.
“I idolized him my whole life,” Downs said. “So then finally, you get to meet him and talk to him a little bit — it was definitely special.”
The trade reunited Downs with his older brother, Jerry, a 15th-round pick by the Red Sox in 2015 who made it as far as Double-A last season. Playing on the same team was something Jeter Downs would lie in bed and dream about, he said.
“I was playing catch with him and I was just like, ‘Wow, we’re wearing the same uniform.’ It’s pretty surreal that things have turned around this way,” he said. “We always mentioned, ‘Oh it would be pretty cool to play with you, or be on the same team with you.’ But you didn’t think of it that far. And now it’s come to fruition? It’s pretty interesting.”
A shortstop and second baseman who split time between Single- and Double-A last season, Jeter Downs came to the Red Sox with outfielder Alex Verdugo and minor league catcher Connor Wong for Betts and David Price. The deal was a salary dump for the Red Sox, who were willing to part with MVP and Cy Young winners to get under the collective bargaining tax threshold for 2020.
Downs was on his way to the Miami airport to fly to Dodgers camp in Glendale, Arizona, when he got word that he should instead head across the state to the Red Sox complex in Fort Myers.
“It’s cool to be traded for arguably a top five player in the game,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t go out and do my job. So I still think I’ve got to go out and perform, and play well and things can be talked about after.”
Downs hit .276 with 24 homers, 86 RBIs and 24 stolen bases last year. With shortstop Xander Bogaerts signed long term in Boston, Downs will try to work his way up to the majors at second base.
If he makes it, Boston crowds could be cheering for a player named Jeter.
“I’m sure he’ll hear a lot about that,” Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said.
And, if that’s too difficult for the Fenway fans, they could always take a tip from Jerry Downs Sr., who’s been doing it for 21 years.
“My dad was actually a Red Sox fan,” he said. “So he’s so happy that both of us are here now.”
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