Derek Jeter: One-on-one with Tampa's famous neighbor

TAMPA, Florida -- When Derek Jeter heads for home -- not home plate, but real "home" -- he heads to Davis Islands in Tampa.

Remember the guy on this rookie baseball card? That's what the New York Yankees starlooked like, truly, a kid, around the time he moved to Tampa in 1993.

Well, he's now 38 years old, and he has spent twenty of those years as our neighbor.

"I grew up in Michigan, and in the offseason it was just way too cold," Jeter told me with a smile in a one-on-one interview in January.

"So I moved down here to be at our minor league complex that was here in Tampa and I fell in love with it, and I've been here ever since."

Jeter is known for being humble. But his house? It sort of speaks for itself.

His new home was built two years ago; the property appraiser recently put a value on it of $12 million. It stretches across three lots and is Hillsborough County's largest. But bragging is not his style.

"What's it been like to live in the largest house in Hillsborough County? How's that been?" I asked.

Jeter paused for a second, then chuckled, "Well, I mean, it's all right."

At 30,000 square feet, the seven-bedroom, nine-bathroom waterfront mansion is the size of a Best Buy store.

"I'm pretty much a homebody anyways, but I've been down here, I'm real familiar with the area, so I've enjoyed my years here in Tampa," Jeter said.

According to Forbes, Derek Jeter makes $24.5 million a year. But talk with him for a minute and you'd never know it. He's not even the type you'd wanna grab a beer with. It's more like you'd wanna have him over and play some cheesy board game, and maybe make root beer floats. He just comes across as a pleasant and caring guy.

And that showed again whenword got out that he had called the grieving mother of heroic Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher, and huge Yankees fan, Victoria Soto.

"You know, I really don't want to talk about it," Jeter told me. "Obviously, it was a very unfortunate situation."

"I called her. I didn't call her for people to know about it. But her daughter was pretty excited and I guess tweeted -- I'm not into Twitter -- but she tweeted about it and that's how people found out. But it's unfortunate and I'll keep the conversation private."

I talked with Jeter at his celebrity golf tournament. It raises money for his Turn 2 Foundation, which helps keep kids off drugs and alcohol. On the field, he has a reputation for good sportsmanship. But here, he'll stretch the rules.

"Hopefully I can make a putt. I actually made the hole a little bit bigger, too. So the odds are stacked in my favor," he said with a laugh.

Tampa Bay may be home, but Jeter is not ready to weigh in on our community's big baseball questions.

"Where do you think the Rays should end up? And what do you think is the trouble they're having with attendance?" I asked Jeter, who has run out onto the turf at Tropicana Field to play in games against the Rays 118 times.

"I don't know. They've had a great team for quite some time now," he answered.

"You know, it's unfortunate. You'd like to see every team sell out all the time. But I don't know enough information about it to comment on it, but I know they have an exciting team."

"They've played us tough throughout the years, and as much as I'd like to see them have a lot of people, I guess the less people they have, maybe they're not as good," he said with a grin.

Expect to see him backat a ballpark in Tampa Bay soon. Jeter told me his broken ankle is healing well. He's been cleared to return to the field, so he'll be back in pinstripes whenYankees Spring Training starts in Tampa later this month.

As Jeter putted with his celebrity pals at his golf fundraiser, I asked him about his commitment to helping others. Specifically, what had he learned from Tampa's other famous Yankees neighbor, the team's late owner, and Jeter's friend,George Steinbrenner?

"The thing with the Boss -- I call him the Boss, still -- the thing with the Boss is he gave so much to the community and didn't want to be recognized for it," Jeter replied. "He did so much for the community that people didn't even know about. That's probably the biggest thing I learned from him."

A superstar, and pretty super guy, who slides into homehere in Tampa Bay.


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