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GuideRail Feature: Jeter Downs

Dream Weaver appeared in the May 21 Issue of the GuideRail Game Day Program
(Todd Hiller)
June 3, 2024

Dream Weaver: Downs using upbringing to pursue MLB vision The New York Yankees franchise is synonymous with players that fans are familiar with by only one name. Babe, Mickey, Yogi and Jeter to name a few. Derek is the latter, of course. The Hall of Fame, generation-defining shortstop who played

Dream Weaver: Downs using upbringing to pursue MLB vision

The New York Yankees franchise is synonymous with players that fans are familiar with by only one name. Babe, Mickey, Yogi and Jeter to name a few.

Derek is the latter, of course.

The Hall of Fame, generation-defining shortstop who played for the New York Yankees and won five World Series championships became the example many baseball players playing today’s game try to emulate, on and off the field. Players could only dream of having his talent and his legacy.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders franchise is a bridge for those players dreaming of one day donning the Yankee pinstripes and running out onto Yankee Stadium as a major league ball player. One current player who shares this dream not only possesses the talent to make it a reality but also bears the name of the legendary shortstop. His name is Jeter Downs and his dream of becoming a Yankee may come true this season.

Downs' journey to become a major leaguer began when he was selected number 32 overall by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2017 MLB draft. But his dream of playing baseball started early on when he was a child, playing wiffle ball in the backyard with his dad, Jerry Downs Sr., a former professional baseball player in Columbia. Downs says those memories and his father’s love for the game helped shape and make his aspirations of becoming a baseball player come true.

“I never met someone so obsessed with baseball,” Downs says about his father. “Even in the offseason when nobody’s playing, he’s watching winter league baseball games just to watch baseball. He doesn’t have any connection, any ties, to any of those games. He just wants to watch baseball. He’s a true baseball meathead as I call it,” Downs says.

Because Downs’ father was a pitcher, his dad always talked to him about how the opposition was going to attack him at the plate. His father would also never turn down the opportunity for extra batting or fielding practice with Downs or his brother, Jerry Jr.

“Even now to this day, I still work out with him in the offseason,” Downs says. “It’s me and him pretty much every single day and I think that’s what keeps me going and keeps him going too. That joy of father and son grinding together trying to live this dream out. It’s super fun.”

Downs admits, though, that his father is tough on him and that he could be his biggest critic at times, but the tough love brings out the best in him.

RailRiders skipper Shelley Duncan can relate to being part of a baseball family because his father, Dave Duncan, was a major league catcher and pitching coach. Duncan understands how influential a baseball father can be on a player trying to make it to the next level.

“Everybody is impacted by their father,” Duncan says. “A father can share that source of knowledge more than anything else about what he does. So, when it comes to kids in a baseball family, they have that natural tendency to gravitate towards it more and understand it a little more than others.”

However, Duncan acknowledges that ball players experience added stress when their families understand the intricacies of the game.

“You feel like you’re carrying on a family legacy and you don’t want to let down the legacy your father has built,” Duncan says. “There is pressure for every kid whose dad is in baseball. It probably makes them a little stronger in some sense but it’s also tough to deal with.”

The stress of being named after a legendary baseball player and growing up in a baseball family is one reason why Downs’ approach impressed Trevor Amicone, the RailRiders hitting coach. Amicone says Downs carries himself as if he is a veteran and it is easy to forget he is only 25 years old.

“He has a real consistent focus on what needs to be focused on,” Amicone says. “He doesn’t get distracted by things that aren’t important to his development. It’s one thing having experience and having been around. It’s another thing to be around and pay attention and learn from that experience, and you can tell he’s taken as much from the experience as possible.”

A year after the Reds selected Downs, he was traded to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer.

In 2020, he was traded once more, this time to the Boston Red Sox for Alex Verdugo and Connor Wong. The acquisition caught the attention of Derek Jeter. Jeter, who met Downs years before he joined the Red Sox, posted on Twitter, “Congratulations and good luck…unless you are playing the Yankees.”

On July 9 that year, Downs notched his first major league hit and RBI. In the same game, he scored the winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning against, you guessed it, the New York Yankees.

Eight days later, Downs hit his first major league home run off Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole. Downs’ effort and approach to the game were paying dividends and his dream of being a major league ball player was coming true. He recalls the feeling and aura of Yankee Stadium like nothing he has ever experienced.

“Playing in Yankee Stadium with the Red Sox, that’s my favorite stadium to ever play in. That home plate batter's box just feels different. I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Downs remembers.

The Washington Nationals claimed Downs off waivers in 2022 and he spent most of the season with their International League affiliate in Rochester. A year later, the Yankees claimed Downs off waivers and this January he was sent to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

He is knocking on the door of playing again at Yankee Stadium but this time as a Yankee, trying to live up to past legends that came before him and fulfill a lifelong dream.

“Putting on these pinstripes, especially that first time I played in spring training feels like you’re playing in the name of so many greats,” Downs says. “Playing in the Bronx, hopefully, someday. That will be literally everything I ever dreamed of ever since I was four years old.”

Downs has carried his professional approach to baseball with him to Scranton. On May 8, the RailRiders were down six runs in the sixth to his 2023 IL team. Downs never doubted Scranton/Wilkes-Barre could win the game against the Red Wings

“I told [Josh] VanMeter in like the seventh inning ‘watch, we are going to win this game somehow someway’,” Downs recalls.

Sure enough, in the bottom of the eighth, Downs hit a go-ahead three-run homer to put SWB up for good as they ultimately won the game 14-12.

“Usually when you are part of games like that, being in the dugout it feels deflating,” Downs admits. “We were all upset we were losing, but it wasn’t as serious as the vibe usually is with a game like that. So, it was pretty surreal to see us come around and bring that back home.”

If Downs continues to play like he has this season, he will get the chance to have more surreal moments stepping into the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium, playing for the team he loved as a child, and living up to a name tantamount to Yankee lore.