TAMPA, Fla. -- The stadium was called Legends Field back in the spring of 1996, having just opened its gates to the public, and it was where a 21-year-old Derek Jeter celebrated that he was going north as the Yankees' Opening Day shortstop.
Nearly two decades later, Jeter stood outside those same clubhouse doors, leaving the facility -- now referred to as George M. Steinbrenner Field -- for the final time as an active player. The captain has played his last Spring Training game.
"It hasn't really set in," Jeter said. "It's odd to think that I won't be back. I've been coming here since '96; the first year it opened was my first year. It will be a little different; it will probably be a little more different next year when Spring Training starts. Right now, I'm just looking forward to getting to Houston."
Jeter was honored prior to what would have been his final spring game on Saturday, as he was presented with a key to the city of Tampa. The game was cancelled due to rain moments after the presentation.
"I live here, so now I can do whatever I want when I'm in Tampa," Jeter said with a smile. "I don't know how long it unlocks the doors for. It always feels good to be recognized. I spend a lot of time here, I live here in the offseason, so I thought it was very nice."
Jeter, 39, concluded his final spring with the Yankees batting .137 (7-for-51), with a double and two RBIs. He said that it took him longer than expected to regain his timing after missing most of last year due to injuries, but the veteran said that he feels prepared to begin the season as the Yanks' everyday shortstop.
"I feel good. That was the most important thing," Jeter said. "Spring Training is a progression, both physically and being game-ready. I feel I'm where I want to be right now."
Jeter said that he doesn't remember much about that spring of '96, except for that the facility was brand new. He has also recalled how Steinbrenner was unsure about going into the season with an unproven shortstop.
As the story goes, the Mariners offered journeyman infielder Felix Fermin to the Yankees, seeking pitchers Mariano Rivera or Bob Wickman in return -- a deal would have changed the course of franchise history. It was never especially close to happening, as the front office and manager Joe Torre went to bat for Jeter.
In recent seasons, Jeter has acknowledged trying to fast-forward the clock to Opening Day. He hopes that he was able to slow things down a little bit in his final run through the Grapefruit League.
"I just tried to not look forward to the end of it," Jeter said. "Most people look forward to the end of spring about two weeks into it, but I just tried to take it in, day in and day out. That's what I'll remember."
Solarte makes team; Yankees option Nunez
TAMPA, Fla. -- Yangervis Solarte found a seat inside his clubhouse locker and pointed to the goosebumps running up and down his arms. The infielder was just told that he had made the Yankees' Opening Day roster, and he still was in a state of disbelief.
"This is a dream come true, outside of having my family and my children," Solarte said through an interpreter. "This is a new beginning. I have great happiness. Now I have to work hard. This is when the work actually starts."
Solarte, 26, beat out Eduardo Nunez for the final backup infield spot on the roster, with Nunez optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday.
A non-roster invitee, Solarte was a standout this spring, batting .429 (18-for-42) with two homers and nine RBIs, leading the club in hits and tied for the lead in RBIs. He said that he did not know what to think coming into the final day of the spring.
"I basically was just focused on how happy I was with everything, the way that I performed this Spring Training and being here," Solarte said. "Every day I kept moving forward, so I just stayed positive."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that it had been a difficult decision, but the switch-hitting Solarte has more career experience playing second and third base, which gave him an advantage.
"We thought he won the spot in Spring Training," Girardi said. "I thought defensively he played well. I thought he gave you good at-bats every time he went up there, whether it was from the left side or the right side."
Nunez left the clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field without speaking to reporters. Girardi said that Nunez was "very disappointed and upset" by the decision, and that it had been "extremely difficult" to tell Nunez he had not made the team.
"We all love Nuney," Girardi said. "There's something about his character and who he is that just makes him a guy that everyone roots for and wants to see him do well and have a great career. But it's difficult. The past two days have been really difficult on me."
With Brendan Ryan beginning the year on the disabled list, Girardi said that he envisions using Dean Anna as the primary backup to shortstop Derek Jeter, while using Solarte more at second and third base.
The Yankees need to make a 40-man roster move before Tuesday to accommodate Solarte; that decision has not yet been announced.
Tanaka wins award for top Yankees rookie
TAMPA, Fla. -- As Masahiro Tanaka wraps up his first big league Spring Training camp and prepares to head into the regular season, the Yankees right-hander has already tucked one award under his belt.
The Yankees announced Saturday that Tanaka was the recipient of the 2014 James P. Dawson Award, given annually to the outstanding Yankees rookie in Spring Training. Tanaka received the award in a ceremony before Saturday's game against the Marlins was cancelled due to rain.
Tanaka, 25, went 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five appearances (three starts) this spring, allowing five earned runs in 21 innings. He led the team with 26 strikeouts while walking only three batters, permitting 15 hits.
"I do feel that I learned a lot throughout Spring Training," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I think the important thing for me is not to stop here and keep learning as the season progresses."
Tanaka completed his spring by hurling six innings of three-hit ball with no walks and 10 strikeouts in a 3-0 Yankees victory over the Marlins on Friday. He is scheduled to make his Major League debut on April 4 against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
The award was established in honor of James P. Dawson (1896-1953), who began a 45-year career with The New York Times as a copy boy in 1908. Eight years later, he became boxing editor and covered boxing and baseball until his death during Spring Training in 1953.
The Yankees' beat writers vote on the award; Yangervis Solarte, who hit .429 this spring to win a roster spot, was the runner-up. In conjunction with the award, Tanaka will receive a watch from Betteridge Jewelers.
• Girardi said that there is "a pretty good chance" that Saturday's washed-out batting order is the one he'll use against the Astros on April 1. That lineup: Jacoby Ellsbury, Jeter, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner, Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson.
Girardi said that in hitting Gardner seventh, "He's a guy that we feel we could hit anywhere in the top or anywhere down to give some speed. He had a pretty good year offensively last year, and that's where we decided to put him."
• Most of the Yankees' roster left for Houston after Saturday's game was cancelled; ace CC Sabathia planned to attend Saturday's NBA matchup between the Rockets and Clippers. Some remained behind, including Girardi, who will watch Michael Pineda's 10 a.m. ET Minor League game on Sunday before flying to Houston. The Yankees have a 3 p.m. ET workout on Monday at Minute Maid Park to prepare for Tuesday's season opener.
• Ryan (pinched nerve in upper back) said that he would be "pretty disappointed" if he is unable to play in the big leagues before May 1. Ryan is staying back in Tampa to continue rehabbing, and he said that he will resume swinging a bat underwater on Monday. He expects to be given about 50 at-bats in Minor League and simulated games before joining the big league club.