TAMPA — Derek Jeter entered the Yankees’ clubhouse and Oswald Peraza was no longer the Yankees’ starting shortstop.
He morphed back into a little boy in Venezuela who idolized the Yankees captain.
Peraza was too nervous to go upstairs to shake hands with Jeter, who was at the Stadium on Sept. 9 last year so Bronx fans could shower him with love and congratulate the No. 2 on his induction into the Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, Peraza was about to make his fifth start at shortstop in the majors.
He didn’t get a handshake, but he got to briefly meet his favorite player.
Nine years after Jeter last played shortstop for the Yankees, Peraza is trying to follow in his footsteps and vying 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 my fingertips, means a lot.
“Trying to do the best I can.”
Peraza wasn’t at his best with the bat Sunday, when he went 0-for-3 in a 5-3 loss to the Orioles at Steinbrenner Field, but he again impressed on the field and remains a strong shortstop candidate. of Opening Day. .
Anthony Volpe, who sat out on Sunday, pushed Peraza in a race that Isiah Kiner-Falefa seems to have lost.
Volpe, from New Jersey, has done it all in a torrid camp in which he posted a .990 OPS in 45 plate appearances with two home runs, four doubles and four steals.
Peraza’s Grapefruit League season has been more low-key, at bat at least.
The 22-year-old has posted a .746 OPS with one 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 maintains his weight and believes he is finding his momentum after a slow start.
“We were watching a video today, and I really feel like I stay at my weight and let those pitches travel a little bit more and I swing the ball better,” Peraza said.
The shortstop horse race is likely to drag on until the end of camp, with Yankees top brass expected to meet this week to begin discussing the Game 1 roster.
Volpe, a first-round pick out of Delbarton High School, might be the favorite of the Yankees’ home fans, but Peraza could be the favorite in the competition.
Peraza, who went through the system one level ahead of Volpe, is already on the 40-man roster and made a successful debut last season, hitting .306 in 18 games and looking solid on the field.
It’s at shortstop where Peraza might best separate himself from Volpe.
Peraza’s arm is stronger, which he showed in the third inning on Sunday.
Baltimore’s Daz Cameron, who has great speed, was on third base with one out, and the Yankees’ infield was positioned inside.
Anthony Bemboom hit a groundout to Peraza’s right, and he backhanded the ball and promptly threw it home.
“When Oswald started coming home, I was like, ‘No,'” manager Aaron Boone said. “I didn’t think he was going to have a play.”
The pitch was strong and catcher Carlos Narváez made a nice bunt for the out.
“Great play,” said starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was initially happy for Peraza to field a 102.2 mph shot. “Just coming out of it is great.”
Peraza’s goal entering this spring was to break camp with the team, and the odds are high that the Yankees will enter the season with the top two prospects on the roster.
Barring the Gleyber Torres trade, Volpe’s hot spring bat and potential is likely to be matched against Peraza’s defensive excellence and solid offensive advantage.
It is not lost on Peraza that being the Yankees’ everyday shortstop would carry additional responsibility and weight.
There are legacies in center field and at shortstop, where Jeter and Phil Rizzuto roamed.
“There is some added pressure,” Peraza said. “But honestly, after my experience last year… just being a part of that clubhouse and the people around me made it nice.”