The uncanny similarities between Anthony Volpe and Derek Jeter

When Derek Jeter shot a walk-off single in his final career game at Yankee Stadium on 25 September 2014, a tear trickled down my cheek. A storybook climax, the moment induced goosebumps of its own accord, but my emotion expressed the end of something bigger than a ballgame or career. I thought the old Yankee magic died with Jeter, never to be repeated – lyrical sentiment killed by cold analytics and the soulless pursuit of marginal gains. There would never be another Jeter, I surmised, and that sudden realisation capped a sporting epoch. My baseball youth was over, its avatar never to be replaced.

Unbeknown to me and everyone else watching, though, Jeter would not only be replaced, but his eventual heir as Yankees shortstop was watching on television that night, cheering along with the masses. Anthony Volpe, a 13-year-old Jersey kid, sat with his dad, Michael, admiring the final throes of their shared pinstriped idol. Intergenerational Yankees fans, the Volpes had partial season tickets, but within a decade, Anthony did not need a barcode to enter the Stadium. Rather, by Opening Day 2023, young Volpe was the starting shortstop for his beloved team, treading in Jeter’s footsteps between second and third in the Bronx.

The shared Yankees dream of Anthony Volpe and Derek Jeter

In a certain light, Volpe’s ascension carries a miraculous hue. Though many dream of playing in the major leagues for their favourite franchise, few achieve that farfetched objective. However, in another light, Volpe’s meteoric rise was entirely predictable. The kid was made for this – preternatural talent spliced with infectious confidence and a tireless work ethic to create a big leaguer seasoned with stardust. Anthony Volpe always wanted to be the Yankees’ shortstop, and now he is – a stunning quirk of fate and a tribute to unwavering belief.

Of course, many years ago, Jeter harboured the same dream. As a kid, Derek told everyone who would listen – and plenty who would not – that, one day, he would play shortstop for the New York Yankees. When asked to write a report on his favoured career in fourth grade, Jeter committed his baseball dream to paper, earning derisive giggles from classmates. Teachers even encouraged Derek to consider more realistic options, but he continued to daydream in a childhood bedroom peppered with Yankees regalia. Nobody could extinguish his desire, nor could they temper his faith.

Born in Pequannock Township, New Jersey, and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Jeter loved the Yankees and spent summers with his grandparents in West Milford, New Jersey – watching the Bronx Bombers on television. Forever bedecked in Yankees garb, Jeter occasionally attended games at the Stadium, worshipping outfielder Dave Winfield. Unlike most kids his age, Derek knew he would bestride that sacred field one day, and he studied the Yankees with voracious precision, adopting the trappings of big league greatness from an early age. 

Nevertheless, as Jeter became involved in organised baseball, working on his game, people continued to write him off – not least professional scouts, who considered Derek too fragile to play shortstop. Nevertheless, his indefatigable drive for self-improvement, coupled with an astonishing twist of destiny, saw Derek drafted and signed by the Yankees in 1992. The rest, as they say, is history.

We now know that Jeter authored one of the greatest careers in Yankees history – a 20-year magic carpet ride littered with all-time franchise records and ample World Series rings. The story borders cliché nowadays, retold ad nauseum in books and blogs and Disney+ documentaries. Typically lost in the frantic hyperbole is the true magnitude – the sheer, insurmountable improbability – of Jeter’s dream coming true. A miniscule percentage of American kids eventually play in a major league game, and a fraction of those represent their favourite team. Few, if any, predict such an occupation, but Jeter did, and it is virtually impossible to compute the probability of that happening.

“It was as if Jeter had willed this to happen,” concluded Ian O’Connor in The Captain, his Derek biography. “All those years of wearing Yankee shirts and caps and pendants, all those promises to friends, teammates and teachers that he would grow up to become the shortstop of the world’s most famous ball team – they created some cosmic force too potent for an antiquated draft system to repel.”

If the odds of Jeter playing shortstop for the Yankees were astronomical, the probability of him meeting and inspiring a fan to achieve the same outcome – grooming his spiritual successor, if you will – were mindbogglingly incomprehensible. However, Anthony Volpe and Derek Jeter met on several occasions during Derek’s career – most notably at a baseball clinic attended by a phalanx of Yankees, including Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams. A shy kid, perhaps aged four or five, Volpe cried before meeting his idols at the event. When Jeter high-fived the little guy in an epochal moment captured on camera, Volpe ran to his mother, overwhelmed by emotion.

The famous Jeter-Volpe photo

Anthony’s parents paid for him to attend that clinic, knowing how much their son loved the Yankees – especially Jeter. Michael Volpe and Isabelle De Leon were also diehard bleacher creatures, and their mutual Yankees fandom was a bonding agent in a nascent relationship. The couple met in 1990 at medical school in Brooklyn – Michael a would-be urologist of Italian descent, Isabelle a trainee anaesthesiologist born in the Philippines. As detailed in a fantastic ESPN feature by Joon Lee, Michael and Isabelle attended Yankees games together, and they even slept outside Yankee Stadium to be first in line when playoff tickets went on sale. Pinstripes ran in their blood, just as it did with the Jeters.

To that end, Anthony’s great-grandfather moved to the US from Italy and sold fruit from a pushcart in Manhattan. The Yankees were a key cog in his cultural assimilation – the exploits of Joe DiMaggio providing daily conversational fodder. In turn, Anthony’s grandad learned at his father’s lap, intoxicated by the cult of Mickey Mantle. Years later, he teased Anthony that, if his grandson ever played for the Red Sox, he would refuse to wear a replica Boston jersey. These are proud New Yorkers, after all. There is no love lost between the Bronx and Beantown.

Michael Volpe inherited that same fiery passion for baseball. For years, he scored games by hand at the Stadium and called into New York sports radio to complain about the team when it faltered. Rants were few and far between in the late-1990s and early-2000s, of course, as Jeter led the Yankees to three titles in four years. Michael even watched the Yankees on 28 April 2001, the day Anthony was born. Ricky, the archetypal uncle, placed a Yankees hat on Anthony’s head when he was two hours old. The kid was born to be a Yankee, and destiny took its course.

The Volpes moved from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to Watchung, New Jersey, when Anthony was in fourth grade. It was there that Anthony dedicated himself to baseball and the dream of representing the Yankees. Twenty years earlier, Charles and Dorothy Jeter encouraged their son to forge that path, instilling values in Derek that included contracts promising good behaviour at school. The Volpes shared those ethics, rewarding Anthony with a pet dog only after he completed all household chores from August through Christmas. The respectful decorum shared by Jeter and Volpe can therefore be mapped to model parenting of striking similarity. These kids were cut from the same cloth – a quarter-century apart.

Volpe and Jeter met at the 2014 All-Star Game

Volpe and Jeter met again in 2014, when young Anthony attended the MLB All-Star Game with his dad. Held in Minnesota, that was the final Midsummer Classic of Jeter’s career, and the Volpes made a pilgrimage across the country. Mingling with autograph-seekers, Jeter idled over to the grandstand before the game and interacted with the Volpes. Young Anthony received a signed ball from Jeter, and another prescient moment was captured by Star Tribune reporter Rochelle Olson.

After raking through high school ball with Delbarton in Morristown, New Jersey, Volpe committed to play collegiately at Vanderbilt, a verified baseball powerhouse. However, when the Yankees picked him in the first round of the 2019 draft – 30th overall – Volpe could not resist a dream opportunity. Afforded a red carpet welcome at Yankee Stadium, Volpe signed a professional contract for $2.7 million. Team officials handed him a Yankees cap and pinstriped jersey – normal attire for the youngster – and he posed for photographs before a scrum of reporters. The smile could not be wiped from his face – a lifetime Yankee ordained as such by management.

Jeter-Volpe comparison - minor league stats

A small kid with excellent plate discipline and boundless enthusiasm, Volpe progressed quickly through the Yankees’ minor league system, posting numbers eerily similar to those of Jeter two decades prior:

First professional season

Player

Minor league level(s)

G

AVG

OBP

HR

SB

Errors

Volpe

Rookie

34

.215

.349

2

6

9

Jeter

Rookie and A

58

.210

.312

4

2

21


Second professional season

Player

Minor league level(s)

G

AVG

OBP

HR

SB

Errors

Volpe

A and A+

109

.294

.423

27

33

13

Jeter

A

128

.295

.376

5

18

56


Third professional season

Player

Minor league level(s)

G

AVG

OBP

HR

SB

Errors

Volpe

AA and AAA

132

.249

.342

21

50

13

Jeter

A+, AA and AAA

138

.344

.410

5

50

25


Minor league totals

Player

G

AVG

OBP

HR

SB

Errors

Volpe

275

.263

.376

50

89

35

Jeter

463

.308

.386

16

90

137

 

In the minors, Jeter probably had a better eye and bat-to-ball skills than Volpe, but Anthony’s power, speed and defence were all superior to Derek’s down on the farm. More importantly, Volpe’s skills were considerably better than most of his minor league peers, to a point where MLB.com ranked him as the Yankees’ top prospect by the end of 2022. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Volpe to prepare for spring training 2023, priming the phenom for a shot at making the big league roster.

Volpe compared to Jeter by Yankees legends

Duly inspired, Volpe worked tirelessly through the 2022-2023 offseason and reported to camp early, intent on winning the Yankees’ starting shortstop job. The incumbent, veteran Isiah Kiner-Falefa, fell out of favour thanks to an anaemic bat, while fellow prospect Oswald Peraza also played his way into contention. Volpe could not be deterred, though, and he pulled relentlessly at the thread offered by a notoriously pragmatic front office.

Hustling and producing, Volpe won plaudits from esteemed members of the Yankees cognoscenti. Lou Piniella was impressed when the youngster took off his cap prior to their meeting, a sign of knowing respect. Aaron Judge lobbied for Volpe’s inclusion on the Opening Day roster, praising his aggression at the plate. And Willie Randolph likened the shortstop to Jeter following intense instruction sessions. “It’s humbling to hear,” said Volpe with a smile when asked about the comparisons. “But I grew up a huge fan of Derek Jeter, and I think there is never going to be another players like him personally – in New York or anywhere, really. So it’s humbling to hear, but I think it is pretty overexaggerated.”

In 17 spring training games, Volpe hit .314 with three homers, five RBI and a .417 OBP. More importantly, he settled in seamlessly and looked like a veteran piece of the Yankees’ core. Finally, on 27 March, manager Aaron Boone informed Volpe that he had made the Opening Day big league roster. The moment was secretly recorded and subsequently released on social media – Volpe’s sweet, natural reaction instantly endearing him to millions.

Jeter congratulated Volpe on big league call-up

Messages of congratulations and support flooded in from various angles, not least from Jeter himself, who acknowledged Volpe’s rise on Twitter:

Volpe became the Yankees' youngest Opening Day starter since Jeter

Fittingly, Volpe became the Yankees’ youngest Opening Day starter since Jeter in 1996. Anthony was 21 when he got the call; Jeter was 20. Both played shortstop and hit ninth in the lineup. Moreover, Volpe became the first Yankee since Hideki Matsui in 2003 whose debut came on Opening Day. The kid kissed the interlocking NY logo on his chest during Yankee Stadium rollcall, turning and pointing to the bleachers where once his family sat. The pulse raced a little faster for every Yankees fan watching – Volpe living the dream held by so many.

You can tell when the Yankees think they have a homegrown star because they give those players the lowest jersey numbers available – the #99 of Aaron Judge notwithstanding. Long-time clubhouse manager Rob Cucuzza acts as the Yankees’ conscience in this regard, doling out numbers based on an inimitable feel for the esoteric aura that makes this franchise tick. When Jeter’s #2 was retired in 2017, the Yankees ran out of single digits – save for the zero worn by Domingo German, but that is a rant for another day. As such, the lowest available conventional number on the Yankees is #11, and Cucuzza assigned it to Volpe without hesitation. In a classy touch, Volpe rang Brett Gardner, a lifetime Yankee who previously wore the number, to seek permission before suiting up. Gardner gave his blessing and wished Volpe good luck, passing the baton of expectation.

Volpe the spiritual heir to Jeter as Yankees shortstop

The immortal comparisons kept coming for the rookie, perhaps a tad unfairly. Volpe went 0-for-2 in his debut then collected his first major league hit on 1 April 2023 – a bouncing grounder past the diving shortstop and into left field. Jeter went 0-for-5 in his debut then collected his first hit on 30 May 1995 – a bouncing grounder past the diving third baseman and into left field. Volpe hit his first home run on 14th April 2023 – a lofted fly to left field. Jeter hit his first home run on 2nd April 1996 – a lofted fly to left field. Baseball fans love this stuff, and exaggerated Jeter-Volpe comparisons continue to trend on social media.

Most of the parallels do a huge disservice to Volpe, who cannot be expected to have produce a Hall of Fame career. However, the similarities between Jeter and Volpe – physically, statistically and philosophically – are mesmeric. Anyone who denies that is not a baseball romantic. The slender frame. The smouldering good looks. The chiselled jaw and streamlined nose. The glistening eyes and close-cropped hair. The megawatt smile that lights up New York. The innate, unteachable confidence that stops instinctively short of full-blown arrogance. The agility and hustle. The will to win. These guys are inseparable. 

Sure, there have been other Yankees shortstop since Jeter rode into the sunset. Didi Gregorius was likeable. Gleyber Torres is exciting if ultimately flawed. Heck, even Troy Tulowitzki – another Jeter acolyte – had a five-game spell in pinstripes. Yet nobody has harboured the potential to pick up Jeter’s flame and carry it through the next generation. Nobody has embodied the spirit and kismet needed to be the Yankees’ shortstop. Volpe has that potential. Volpe embodies that spirit. Volpe has the world at his feet, quite frankly, and it will be exhilarating to watch his career unfold.

Likening any rookie to one of the greatest players of all-time is patently absurd, and I understand that. I get it. But for Yankee honks prone to poetic hyperbole – for the loquacious columnists who worship at the altar of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Jeter – this is a gift from the baseball gods. Yes, Judge is the current captain and quite possibly the next Hall of Fame Yankee, but Volpe nurses an altogether different potential. Volpe has the chance to inherit Jeter’s intangible majesty – his unimpeachable ‘it’ factor – and write an entirely new chapter in Yankees history. Such opportunities do not come around very often, and I’m rooting for the kid to seize his chance.

“Why are there comparisons to Jeter?,” Volpe often asks his mother, according to Lee’s ESPN piece. “I haven’t accomplished anything close to him. There’s never going to be another Jeter.” Yet that is what keeps us coming back as baseball fans. That is what keeps us interested, even after years of calcified disappointment and against the tide of time-wrought rationality. Baseball dares us to dream impossible dreams, as Jeter and Volpe have shown. We keep watching to find the next Jeter – to spot him coming, to usher him in, to cheer his greatness, then to bid him adieu. That is what makes baseball work, and that is what makes the Yankees tick. I would not have it any other way.

It remains to be seen whether Volpe can match Jeter’s Rookie of the Year Award, let alone reproduce a fraction of Derek’s postseason resume. The kid might flame out like so many heralded prospects before, consigned to the scrapheap marshalled by Brien Taylor, Clint Frazier and Drew Henson. He is currently hitting .228 and occasionally looks overmatched against premium off-speed pitching. There are also early signs of Jeter-esque defensive struggles, and a return to ninth in the lineup may come soon. However, Volpe may morph further into the Jeter-Dustin Pedroia hybrid that many envision, slashing his way through the record books. Volpe is yet to be caught stealing in the majors; his underlying on-base tendencies seem sustainable; and the energy he brings to the field is unlike anything the Yankees have had in many years.

Whatever becomes of Anthony Volpe, his achievements thus far will never cease to amaze. The fact that he has gotten this far, achieved his improbable dream, is magical. The mere mention of Jeter in the same breath, affirmative or otherwise, is laudable. And the hallucinogenic tone of his potential, to be realised or unfulfilled, is intoxicating. Enjoy this while you can, Yankees fans, and jump aboard the bandwagon. You only get one shot at the Anthony Volpe IPO, and time is running out before this kid explodes.


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