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03/29/11 2:15 PM ET

Anticipation begins for Jeter's 3,000-hit chase

At the moment Derek Jeter steps to home plate in the bottom of the first inning on Thursday, the countdown can officially begin, as each hit produced by the captain's stroke moves him closer to 3,000.

Remarkably, Jeter is in line to become the first Yankee to celebrate the feat, and it is a certainty that he will soon doff his helmet to recognize one of the game's most fabled accomplishments.

Yet even after so many achievements and accomplishments over the course of a Cooperstown-bound career, Jeter still seems largely uncomfortable with the idea of being so lavishly honored for a personal achievement.

Needing 74 hits to become the 28th member of that exclusive club, Jeter plans to make an effort to savor the event and its accompanying hoopla, rather than follow his instincts to shy away from it.

"I'll try to enjoy it, I guess," Jeter said. "I think in the past I've pretty much tried to block it out and not pay attention to it. For myself, I'll appreciate the journey and have fun with it.

"The great thing is, it's a hit thing. Every time you're up there, you're trying to get a hit anyway."

Jeter echoed similar thoughts in 2008 and '09, when he was closing in on a pair of Lou Gehrig's marks -- first shattering the Iron Horse's record for hits at the old Yankee Stadium and then surpassing Gehrig for most hits in a Yankees uniform.

He would call those experiences overwhelming at the time, although you always got the sense that Jeter would have preferred to be talking about something a teammate, or the entire team, had achieved.

"I couldn't wait for it to be over with, because I really didn't like the focus to be on me," Jeter said.

Such is the norm for a player who measures seasons on whether a World Series title is won.

Jeter appreciates each one of the 2,926 hits he's had thus far -- the first on May 30, 1995, a single to left off the Royals' Tim Belcher -- but he truly keeps score by measuring whether a championship is clinched at the end of the season.

"I hope he can enjoy it," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "When Derek takes the field, he takes the field to do whatever he can to help the team win. If he gets his 3,000th hit on a day that we lose, he's probably not going to be real happy about it."

Last season, Jeter notched his 74th hit on June 6 against the Blue Jays; in 2009, it came on June 12 and in 2008, the 74th hit of Jeter's season was logged on June 19.

While there are no guarantees, that could provide a pretty accurate window as to where -- assuming he stays healthy -- Jeter's milestone will take place.

Certainly he'd prefer to do it at Yankee Stadium in front of a home crowd, and the Yankees have a long homestand from June 7-16 against the Red Sox, Indians and Rangers -- just food for thought to those who might be inclined to think ahead to the summer.

"Not too many people have done it," Jeter said. "I think it's really a mark that, for a lot of years, people have looked to as something that's very hard to do."

The Rays' Johnny Damon, a former teammate who is still entertaining thoughts of his own chase for 3,000 hits, said that it is getting more difficult for athletes to have long and productive careers like Jeter's.

"They pay us so much money nowadays, a lot of guys probably start losing interest around the 2,000 mark," Damon said. "For him to be the only Yankee to ever do it, that goes to show you how well he dealt with New York and how well he managed his career.

"Playing 17 years in New York is like playing 25 somewhere else, probably. That's an amazing feat and I could see at the end of these three years, he could be at 3,500 and on his way to Cooperstown."

Of course, after struggling through one of the worst seasons of his career and then engaging with negotiations on a new three-year contract that proved messier than some expected, Jeter heads into 2011 with more to prove than just hits.

He was frustrated by bad habits that he developed at the plate late in the season and spent most of his spring working with hitting coach Kevin Long on reducing the amount his left foot strides at the plate.

The immediate results left Jeter with a spring average over .300 and fewer weak ground balls than before, forcing opposing pitchers to consider re-thinking their approach against him.

"Some of the balls he's pulled with authority," Girardi said on Tuesday. "I've noticed that he seems to get to it better now. I think it's something that pitchers are going to have to think about.

"Everything he used to shoot more the other way and he'd pull some breaking balls. I've seen him pull some heaters with authority. People are going to have to decide if the risk is worth it."

The Yankees have maintained that they signed Jeter to play shortstop and hit in the top of the lineup, and Jeter's career numbers are remarkably similar whether he bats first or second, promising that he can be productive this year and beyond.

"I think he's going to do what he always does," Alex Rodriguez said. "He's going to have a Derek Jeter-type year, which is over 200 hits, be very productive and I expect him to get right back to form."

Within the Yankees' inner circle, there is a sense of confidence that not only will Jeter get to the 3,000 hits mark, but he will reach that achievement in the style befitting his Hall of Fame career.

"You think about what you can do to improve and get better," Jeter said. "That's what motivates you. You want to be the best that you can be, not because you're sitting down and looking at numbers.

"I feel as though I had a lot of things I can improve on from last season. That's what I'm working on."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.