NEW YORK — Derek Jeter earned five titles for the New York Yankees. His successor at shortstop already has one: Sir Didi Gregorius, proud member of Order of Orange-Nassau.
New York’s newest infielder was knighted after playing for the Netherlands in the 2011 Baseball World Cup, where the Dutch beat Cuba 2-1 in the final. He goes by his noble rank on his Twitter account.
“Some people actually call me Sir Didi,” he said from Curacao during a telephone conference call. “I don’t really mind if they just call me Didi.”
Gregorius was acquired from Arizona on Dec. 5 as part of a three-team trade that sent right-hander Shane Greene to Detroit. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman figures Gregorius will be part of a shortstop platoon with Brendan Ryan, starting against most right-handed pitchers.
At the Baseball World Cup in Panama three years ago, Gregorius hit .265 (9 for 34) with a two-run homer in a 19-0 rout of Greece. That Nov. 11 in the Dutch city of Haarlem, Dutch Minister of Sports Edith Schipppers announced knighthoods for the 24 players, Manager Brian Farley and Technical Director Robert Eenhoorn, saying she was acting on behalf of Queen Beatrix. Gregorius joined an order established in 1892.
“Instead of giving us money, they decided to just knight us — all the guys that had a clean record,” Gregorius said.
He will be taking over a position manned for most of the last 19 seasons by a Yankees icon, who led the team to one of its greatest eras. Gregorius, who turns 25 in February, paints and sketches for relaxation. On Oct. 6, he tweeted a drawing of Jeter with the message: Re2pect to the captain….. Had to draw it superstar.”
“I always wanted to play in New York City. Now I’m following in his footsteps,” Gregorius said. “Jeter is still Jeter. Everything that everybody is going to talk about is Jeter. But for me — I’m learning and I’m there just to play the game, so just trying to focus on the game and trying to win every game, that’s all I can say, not worrying about what’s going on around.”
Named Mariekson Julius Gregorius, he was born in the Netherlands and grew in Curacao, a Dutch territory until 2010 that is now a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Among the major leaguers from there are Kenley Jansen, Andruw Jones, Jurickson Profar and Andrelton Simmons.
He was signed by Cincinnati in 2007, traded to Arizona in December 2012 and hit his first big league homer at Yankee Stadium on April 18, 2013, against Phil Hughes.
Known for above-average defense, Gregorius lost Arizona’s starting shortstop job to Chris Owings during spring training this year but was recalled at midseason and hit .226 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 80 games — just .137 (7 for 51) against left-handers.
He speaks English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamentu, language ability that should be useful in multicultural New York. Gregorius doesn’t seem to be worried about the reception he’ll receive from fans at Yankee Stadium.
“You got to wait till I get there and then I’ll find out how they’re going to treat me,” he said. “I have some good comments on Twitter, say just be you, don’t worry about what other people are saying.”
(RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer)