I still remember the play. Opening Day 2003, Yanks are playing the Jays in Toronto and leading 1-0 when Derek Jeter walked with one out in the third inning. The next Yankee hitter, Jason Giambi hit a dribbler between the mound and third base. Jay third baseman Erik Hinske, shortstop Chris Woodward and pitcher Roy Halladay all went after the ball with Halladay reaching it first and nailing Giambi with a good throw to first. Meanwhile, Jeter raced to second and when he saw that neither Hinske or Woodward was covering third he kept running. Ken Huckaby, the Toronto catcher also saw that third base was uncovered and he ran like hell to get there before Jeter. In the mean time, first baseman Carlos Degado threw a bullet to the third base bag, hoping Huckaby would get there before both the ball and Jeter did. Jeter got their first and was safe on the play but a millisecond later, Huckaby arrived and when he tried to catch the ball and stop at the same time, he barreled into the Yankee shortstop, separating his shoulder in the process. Jeter went on the DL for the first time in his career and everyone wondered, what will the Yankees do without their shortstop.
The immediate options to take his place were Enrique Wilson, who was the utility infielder on that year’s Yankee roster or Erick Almonte, who was considered the organization’s top minor league shortstop at that time. The Dominican native had put together some decent offensive seasons in the Yankee farm system up to that point but his bat had actually been regressing more recently. In fact, the year before Jeter’s injury occurred, New York had demoted Almonte from triple A to double A because of his inability to hit.
That’s why everyone was pleasantly surprised when the Yanks decided to go with Almonte and he got off to a torrid start at the plate when he was called up to the Bronx. In his first game he homered, went 2-for-5 and drove in three runs. He hit safely in six of his first seven games and was averaging .333 after his first ten days as the Yankee shortstop. He would tail off a bit but was still hitting .272 when Jeter returned to the lineup in early May and the Yankees were in first place with a three game lead and a 26-10 record. While Yankee fans had missed the Captain, the truth is the Yankee team hadn’t. Erick Almonte had stepped up big time in Jeter’s absence. He would never get another chance to do so.
He was sent back down to Columbus for most of the rest of that 2003 season. He would later sign as a free agent with the Rockies and then play ball in Japan for a few years. He did not get back to the big leagues until 2011, when he made the Milwaukee Brewer roster as a spare outfielder. Unfortunately, he was beaned pretty severely and didn’t get a chance to play much. As of 2013, he was still playing minor league baseball. He turns 36-years-old today.
He shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever, this Gold-Glove-winning center fielder, this one-time Yankee prospect and the player the Yanks got when they traded Tom Tresh.
|NYY (2 yrs)||39||115||104||17||28||7||0||1||11||3||8||25||.269||.327||.365||.693|
|MIL (1 yr)||16||29||29||1||3||0||0||1||3||0||0||4||.103||.103||.207||.310|