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BEFORE CAPTAIN CLUTCH

by Kevin Reid

Greensboro’s Joe Ferguson remembers promoting Derek Jeter’s first card show

Derek Jeter is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, as well as on the cover of a Sports Illustrated special edition commemorating the New York Yankee shortstop’s 20-year, Hall of Fame worthy career, which officially ended Sunday, Sept. 28. Jeter’s likeness has been on the cover of quite a few publications lately, including this issue of YES! Weekly.

Greensboro might not have been Jeter’s first stop on the minor league climb to the majors and superstardom. But the Gate City was, among other things, the location for the future New York Yankee star’s first card show.

Before Joe Ferguson was a music promoter, he promoted baseball. In fact, to this day, his favorite story about his business ventures is about baseball, Derek Jeter in particular. Because of the hype around the shortstop’s retirement, Ferguson approached YES! Weekly about his Jeter experience so that he could share it with Triad readers, as the accomplishments of the longest serving Yankees captain in history comes to a conclusion.

FERGUSON LEARNS OF HIS FUTURE HERO

It all began in the spring of 1992, when the Greensboro native was beginning to follow his father, Dennis Ferguson, who also lived in Greensboro, in the promotions business.

“I was reading the USA Today, as I did everyday, and on the back page of the sports section was an article on the paper’s baseball All-American high school team,” Joe Ferguson recalled. “It had players for every position and a large portion of the page was devoted to the player-of-the-year.”

That USA Today player was Derek Jeter, the shortstop at Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan. About that time, Jeter was drafted in the first round, sixth overall by the Yankees, not a very good team in those days. Ferguson knew that the Bronx Bombers were weak at that time and figured there was a good chance of them scooping up the young shortstop. Sure enough, the teams that were allowed to draft before the Yanks all took college players, including Raleigh native Paul Shuey, a right-handed pitcher for North Carolina, who was picked No. 2 by the Cleveland Indians.

Ferguson was excited. The Greensboro Hornets, as the South Atlantic League club was then called, were Yankees farm team, and therefore, he figured, they would eventually land Jeter.

“That’s when I originally had the idea to hold a card show with Jeter as a special guest,” Ferguson said.

The Yankees signed Jeter that June and assigned him to their Rookieball Gulf Coast League affiliate in Tampa, where he batted a mediocre .202. Despite the light bat, Jeter was promoted to Greensboro that August.

“I went out to (War Memorial Stadium) and saw him,” Ferguson said of Jeter. “I had never gone to see one specific player before, but this time I was totally focused on him.”

To Ferguson, at least, Jeter did not disappoint.

“I just remember he got up to the plate and jacked one foul,” he recalled. “He was not a power hitter, but the way the ball came off the bat caught my attention.”

Ferguson did not meet Jeter that season, which the shortstop finished by batting .243 with a home run in 47 at-bats. He made nine errors in 11 games.

“The following winter I was really excited,” he said. “I felt like there was a really good chance that Jeter would come back to Greensboro at least for the early part of the season. So once spring training broke and the teams were assembled, I knew that Jeter was coming back.”

As it turned out, Jeter would spend the entire 1993 season in Greensboro, but no one was sure of that until the season ended. Ferguson was ready to act on his plan for the card show featuring the promising shortstop. His first move was to call Jerry Burkot, an executive in the Hornets front office.

“I’m going to have to get in touch with the Yankees,” Ferguson recalled Burkot as saying. “They’ll have to give permission for this.”

The Yankees indeed did give permission, but there were stipulations. The organization was concerned about its young prospect and wanted him to progress mentally as well as physically. They didn’t want his being featured at a card show to “go to his head.” As a result, three teammates on the Hornets, pitchers Ryan Karp and Kemp Wallace and first baseman Nick Delveccio were invited to participate in the show with Jeter. Jeter was to be paid $250 to autograph at the show; the others would receive $50 apiece.

THE SHOW

The show took place May 7 through 9 at the old I.H. Caffey brewery warehouse in Greensboro on West Market Street. Jeter and his Hornets teammates came on Saturday, May 8; the late Crash Davis, a former Philadelphia A’s infielder, who was by then famous due to the fact that his name had been used for a character in the movie, Bull Durham, headlined on Sunday. Davis, a Greensboro resident, had struck up a professional relationship with Dennis Ferguson, who was partnering with his son Joe on the show.

Joe Ferguson still remembers Jeter arriving for the show that Saturday more than 21 years ago.

“I remember Jeter pulled up in a brand new red Toyota Supra, and he got out of the car with a pretty girl at his side “” shocker,” Ferguson said in jest. “As he walked up, I approached him. I let him know I would be the go-to guy for the show. I asked him if he was hungry and “” at his very polite request “” got him a cheeseburger.”

What stands out in Ferguson’s mind to this day about the Jeter experience came next.

“After Jeter finished eating he came over to me by himself and whispered in my ear that he needed a favor,” Ferguson remembered.

“I don’t want the other guys to know I’m making more money than they are,” he quoted Jeter as saying.

From that the promoter concluded, “He just didn’t want his teammates to feel bad. As time has gone on, you can see that he’s the same guy now that he was then.”

This experience with Jeter was solidified to the point that it made him Ferguson’s all-time favorite athlete.

“I remember we had that little secret, and that made me extremely proud,” Ferguson said. “Plus, the entire experience, as it was happening, made me feel as excited as I would be today, knowing all that he has accomplished with the Yankees. In my mind, I really thought he was that special. That’s not something that I said years later, after he started getting all those World Series rings. I really believe that. He was the reason the whole show happened, and I paid attention to everything he did.”

Perhaps that’s why memories of that afternoon of May 8, 1993, remain so locked in Ferguson’s mind.

“Another cool thing that I remember is that the first couple of baseballs he signed were on the horseshoe portion of the ball,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson was working with Jeter at the autograph session and was able to see how the balls were signed. The horseshoe on a baseball is where the stitching tends to resemble such an object.

“I told him the balls would be more valuable if he sign them on the sweet spot,” Ferguson concluded.

The sweet spot is in the center of the stitching on a baseball.

“What’s funny about this is years later, once he became really famous and a sought-after collectible in the autograph market, he would sign baseballs handed to him on the horseshoe,” Ferguson said. “If you order one from MLB.com or a reputable dealer with whom he has made an agreement, the signature is always on the sweet spot.”

At the conclusion of the show, Ferguson had all four of the Hornets put their name and contact information on the back of one of his business cards. Jeter printed his name and included a Kalamazoo telephone number that he figured was Jeter’s parents. Ferguson sold that business card for $400 right before the 2001 World Series. He also sold some baseballs and 8-by-10 inch photos Jeter signed for him during the show. At one time he had 50 of those, but he is now down to one “” which he plans to keep.

KILROY’S

The show ended, but there was one more chapter in Ferguson’s relationship with Jeter. The following June, Ferguson was at a bar called Kilroy’s, across the street from Greensboro College, where the Q Lounge operates today. He felt a tap on his shoulder, turned around and there was Jeter, asking him, “Are you Joe?” “Jeter was there with his entire team,” Ferguson recalled. “Girls were everywhere, and he wanted to talk to me.”

The two young men went out to the patio bench and talked, for about two hours, mostly about baseball and baseball cards.

“I was asking questions of him about certain card companies that had been doing a lot of minor league inserts,” Ferguson said. “I remember asking him how much Classic Sports had paid him to do autograph inserts, and he answered ‘$30,000′” Eventually, Jeter told Ferguson that day was his 19 th birthday.

“That really made me feel special,” Ferguson exclaimed. “It wasn’t like I had cornered him into a conversation. He just wanted to talk with me for whatever reason. All the while, he was so polite and such a gentleman. Nothing has changed from what anybody can see.”

Ferguson, 22 at the time, remembers asking Jeter if he wanted a beer.

“No, but I’d love a Sprite,” the under-aged prospect answered.

After getting the minor his soda, the conversation continued. Ferguson told Jeter he had some extra American League baseballs and would like to take him to lunch and pay him to sign them.

“We’ll do the lunch, but you don’t have to pay me anything,” the shortstop answered.

JETER’S CAREER UNFOLDS

Jeter finished the season with five home runs and a .295 average for the Hornets. His 11 triples were second in the league. He was third in the league in hits (152), stole 18 bases and drove in 71 runs, while scoring 85. He was voted the league’s Most Outstanding Major League Prospect. Despite making 56 errors, a league record, Jeter was also named the league’s Best Defensive Shortstop, as well as Best Infield Arm and Most Exciting Player by Baseball America .

Reaching New York in 1995, Jeter was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, his first full season in the Show. After 20 years, Jeter has collected 3,465 hits, more than any other Yankee. He has also stolen 358 bases and hit 260 home runs. He batted an impressive .310 in his career.

Jeter played in 14 Major League All- Star games, in which he batted .481.

But the legacy Jeter is probably most proud of is the World Series accomplishments of his Yankees teams. His rookie season, they won the World Series for the first time since 1978. After failing to make the World Series in 1997, they won the next three. They won one more in 2009 and have also lost a couple when Jeter played for them.

In Jeter’s long career, the Yankees have made the postseason in all but 2008, 2013 and 2014. Jeter is the all-time leader in post season hits with 200. Among other post season records he holds are games (153) runs (111), doubles (32), triples (5) and at bats (650) As it turned out, Jeter and Ferguson, now in their 40s, have yet to see each other since Jeter’s 19 th birthday.

“Just being able to follow him and see his career unfold makes me proud of those experiences,” Ferguson said.

His record of 2,676 games at shortstop is second all time behind only that of Omar Visquel. He has never played another position, and has won five Gold Gloves in the process.

“It would be like my grandfather hanging out with Joe DiMaggio,” Ferguson compared. “It’s really been surreal, like a movie I’ve seen 1,000 times.”

Ferguson says he got out of the card show business after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. At that point, he switched over to music promotion and owns Shoot the Moon Media Entertainment.

“The tragedies on 9/11 were a big reason for me leaving the card business, but there were a lot of other reasons as well,” Ferguson said. “By then, the market had been saturated with products. The steroid problem that was escalating in baseball didn’t help either.”

Unlike Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and other stars of the New York Yankees, Jeter seems to have escaped suspicion of using performance enhancing drugs. Along with the numbers, the way Jeter has conducted himself adds to his legacy.

“Jeter is respected by so many people,” Ferguson said. “It’s one of the most celebrated baseball careers in my mind.”!

I Remember Derek Jeter

I, too, had the opportunity to spend some time with Greensboro Hornets shortstop, Derek Jeter. I interviewed him at the conclusion of the 1993 season, as the Hornets were about to start the South Atlantic League playoffs.

After congratulating him on a fine season, the polite 19-year-old from Kalamazoo, Mich., thanked me.

“Yes it was a very good year,” he said. “I mean we have a good team. It’s a lot easier to do better when you’re on a good team rather than a losing team.”

I asked the Michigan native if he grew up a Detroit Tigers fan and he replied, “No, I’ve always been a Yankees fan.”

It turns out he was born in Pequannock, N.J., just outside of New York. His grandmother lived there, and he would spend the summers with her and go to Yankee Stadium to watch games.

His favorite player?

“Dave Winfield,” Jeter immediately replied. “I’ll tell you he’s still the best all around athlete in the game.”

At the time, Winfield was almost 42-years old. He hit 21 home runs for the Minnesota Twins that year and still had two seasons left to play.

When asked what he had learned the most that season, Jeter responded, “I learned what it takes to play through a full season because it’s a long year. People tend not to concentrate on different parts of the year. Next season I hope to do a little bit better.”

When asked what he thought of Greensboro, the prospect replied, “It’s a good town. We get plenty of fan support here. I don’t want to play here next year, but I think it’s one of the better towns in minor league baseball.”

When asked for any advice he would give to youngsters interested in a professional baseball career, Jeter replied, “All I can say is do what you can do. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Whether it’s to be a baseball player or a doctor or whatever you want to do. It doesn’t have to be professional sports. People always told me while I was growing up that I couldn’t do it. Whatever you want to do, set your goals high. You will reach them if you work on them.”!

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