TAMPA, Fla. -- When Derek Jeter was on these same fields in the spring of 1996, convincing Yankees officials that he was a starting shortstop, Kelly Johnson was an eighth-grader at Westwood High School in Austin, Texas.
So as Jeter took the field for his final spring home opener nearly two decades later, Johnson said that it was a surreal moment to turn his head left and realize that he was playing third base with Jeter at shortstop.
"I was in high school watching these guys step out on the field for the first time. I was their biggest fan," Johnson said. "I'm watching everything they do, Derek absolutely included. To be playing next to him and being on the same team is pretty amazing."
Johnson said that he was a shortstop in high school, so he paid close attention to all of the young shortstops around the league -- Jeter, of course, as well as players like Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra.
"Anybody that plays for the Yankees, you know who they are, even if you're not a fan," Johnson said. "When he was a rookie, you were definitely aware of Derek Jeter. Remember, that was also when all the other big-time shortstops, that was the big thing."
Johnson said that as an opponent, Jeter always made time to say hello to players on the other team, even rookies with only a few days of big league service under their belts. Johnson said that he has already learned that Jeter seems to be even more fun as a teammate.
"It's a long year. He keeps it light and has fun," Johnson said. "You can tell that this is where he's wanted to be his whole life. It really shows."
Phelps focused on strikes, not his role with Yanks
TAMPA, Fla. -- David Phelps is coming into camp competing to win the fifth-starter vacancy in the Yankees' rotation, but the right-hander feels confident that he will help the pitching staff no matter how he is utilized.
"It's kind of the same thing I've been saying -- this is the third year now," Phelps said. "My job is to go out there and get guys out, regardless of my role. I haven't changed the way I approach the season anyway, I'm just going out there and trying to get on a roll, throw strikes. Regardless of my role, that's how I'm going to approach it."
Phelps started for the Yankees in Thursday's 8-2 Grapefruit League loss to the Pirates, serving up a solo home run to Gregory Polanco in two innings. Phelps allowed two hits with no walks and four strikeouts, throwing 20 of 30 pitches for strikes.
"I felt really good today," Phelps said. "I was throwing strikes, and that was the biggest thing I wanted to take out of today. I didn't get behind too many guys, and the fastball command was there. For day one, I'll take it."
Phelps is competing with Michael Pineda, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno to win the final slot in the rotation. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has suggested that some of those contenders could wind up in a relief role, which is an assignment that Phelps has also filled.
"It's great just being back out there," Phelps said. "It's one thing throwing BP and throwing sim games, but when you're out there with an actual umpire, and no screen, no nets, and you're really playing the game, it definitely gets your heart pumping a little bit more."
Cervelli posts photo calling for peace in Venezuela
TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli engaged with social media to show support for his troubled homeland on Thursday, posting a picture with several teammates pleading for peace in Venezuela.
It has been reported that 16 people have died as protests of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government become increasingly violent. In the photo Cervelli posted to Instagram, he is clutching a corner of Venezuela's flag among hand-written signs reading, "Paz," or peace.
"All of my friends have been doing that on the other teams," Cervelli said. "I think we're not trying to be in politics or whatever, because I don't believe in politics, I just play baseball.
"But I care about my people. My mom and dad are still there, and I'm always praying for them to be safe every day. It's a little message just for peace and no more people dead."
Four other Venezuelan members of the Yankees' roster are in the picture: catcher Francisco Arcia and infielders Jose Gil, Jose Pirela and Yangervis Solarte. Bullpen catcher Roman Rodriguez also took part.
In addition, Yankees stars CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki posed for the photo. Cervelli said that his teammates wanted to show support for the cause.
"Latin people have always been one," Cervelli said. "We are brothers, and everywhere we go, we make noise. We talk loud. That's the way we do things; and the music. We had other guys, [Ichiro] from Japan, [Sabathia] from here.
"I spend more time with these guys than my family, so we are a family. These are the people I have been working [with] for the last four years, so I think everybody feels the same thing."
• Dressed in his full pinstripes for Thursday's Grapefruit League game, Brian Roberts said that he got a strange look from the Pirates' Chris Dickerson, who was a teammate of Roberts' with the Orioles last season.
"Dude, you just look weird,'" Dickerson told Roberts.
Roberts acknowledged that it is an adjustment to be dressing in navy blue pinstripes instead of black and orange, but he said that staying in the American League East and knowing Yankee Stadium well should help.
"I think in some ways I just feel strange," Roberts said. "But I think if I was putting on a San Diego Padres uniform, it would be even more weird."
• Left-hander Francisco Rondon (back) is "probably down for a couple of weeks," according to Girardi. Rondon felt stiffness while warming up on Wednesday in Bradenton, Fla.
• Right-hander Jose Ramirez had MRIs performed Thursday on his oblique and back. He was sidelined last season with an oblique injury that was originally thought to be a back issue.