Jeter Downs explains his name, and how he finally met his hero in a bizarrely random way

John Tomase
NBC Sports Boston

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jeter Downs may be named after the Yankees' Hall of Fame shortstop, but the two had never met until a chance encounter at a Miami traffic light just last week.

"I was driving, me and my brother were driving to go to train," Downs said Wednesday. "My brother, we're in traffic. He sees this Range Rover pulling up. He was like, 'Oh my God, is that Jeter?' He honks and I wave at him.

"I'm doing training with Raul Ibanez. I called Raul and said, 'Tell Jeter that the kid he was waving at was Jeter.' So then he told him that and it was pretty cool that I met him that way."

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A couple of days later, one of Downs' friends attended a Marlins event and arranged for Derek Jeter to FaceTime with his awestruck namesake.

"I've idolized him my whole life," Downs said. "It was finally good to meet him and talk to him a little bit. It was definitely special."

Needless to say, there's a new Jeter in town, and the Red Sox can only hope he's one-tenth the player who gave him his first name.

Jeter Downs was part of the return for Mookie Betts and David Price in the blockbuster with the Dodgers, and the slugging 21-year-old middle infielder hopes to strike his own path in Boston.

"It's cool to be traded for arguably a top-five player in the game," Downs said. "But it doesn't mean anything if I don't go out and do my job. I still have to go out and perform, play well. Things can be talked about after."

So about that name, which he estimates he's been asked about so much, "I can't even count the number of times."

His mom liked the way Jeter played, so she gave that name to her son, who was born in Colombia, but raised in Miami. His older brother, Jerry, is also a Red Sox farmhand, though he's named after their dad, who has always been a Red Sox fan.

"Obviously you get bombarded with this whole name thing," Downs said. "It's pretty cool. I guess my mom knew what she was doing when she named me Jeter."

The Red Sox gave him some special treatment, not only inviting him to big league camp, but giving him a locker next to J.D. Martinez and a number (20) that's about 65 less than the typical minor leaguer.

There's a lot to like about Downs' game. While scouts are split on his ability to remain at shortstop, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder projects as an everyday second baseman with power. He blasted 24 home runs last year between High-A and Double-A, and there's no reason to think he couldn't move quickly in a Red Sox farm system that's currently thin on top-end talent.

"Honestly I don't care where I'm playing as long as I'm helping the team win," Downs said. "It'd be the outfield if that's what we need to win and make things happen."

And who knows? Maybe he'll even do justice to his name.

"I obviously have the name, so I kind of had to be a fan of his," he said. "I idolized him – the way he played, the way he went about the game, the things he did, how he was respected by every single team. It was pretty cool as a kid. I don't care what team you're from. It was just cool to watch a guy like that."

Jeter Downs explains his name, and how he finally met his hero in a bizarrely random way originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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