Sometimes, Derek Jeter would just start rapping.
“Warm it up, Chris!” Jeter would say.
“I’m about to!” Chris Heaps, sitting at the locker to Jeter’s left, would respond in a thick southern drawl. “Warm it up, Jeet!”
“That’s what I was born to do!” Jeter would shoot back, the friends mimicking the lines of Kriss Kross’ hit “Warm It Up.” It was 1992.
Back then, Jeter was mere days into what would become one of the most celebrated and closely watched careers in sports history. It was a tenure as Yankees shortstop filled with glitz and glamor and World Series rings, one that will take its ultimate step when the Baseball Hall of Fame announces his induction Tuesday night.
When Jeter’s bust is unveiled in Cooperstown in July, it’ll be neighbors with not just Yankees greats, but with titans of the game. It’ll be a place that he earned with 3,465 career hits, a .310 batting average, countless iconic moments and such a does-it-the-right-way rep that his “The Captain” title followed him out of the Bronx and around the globe.
But, at the time, Jeter was simply neighbors with Heaps, a 19-year-old second baseman who had been drafted in the 28th round out of community college in Alabama the year prior. Heaps was Jeter’s first locker mate and his first double play partner in pro ball.
Jeter was a chummy neighbor, Heaps recalled in a phone interview Saturday. Now 47 and a baseball coach and history teacher at Russellville High School in Alabama, Heaps still remembers the tiny details of that time.
“So vibrant,” Heaps said of a fresh-out-of-high school Jeter. “So very much humble. Although he was a No. 1 draft pick, he acted like one of the guys.”
Heaps remembered what it was like to share equal space with a player who would go on to become MLB’s face and the celebrity king of New York City.
At Jeter’s locker, Heaps said, he’d have “a picture or two, and a motivational thing or two, and some family stuff.”
“And I remember a picture of Mariah Carey, and him singing, ‘I’ll Be There,’ with his headphones on. Not a great singer, but we laughed and liked it.”
Heaps added, “We were side by side and, I’ll never forget, he had that picture of Mariah Carey, and I think he said, ‘One day, I’m going to marry her.’ That was, you know, a teenage thing to say. I think they dated, didn’t they?”
They, in fact, did.
That was just one dream Jeter would live out.
He’d also win five championships, including four from 1996 through 2000. He’d run a nonprofit aimed at helping children and he’d end up in movies and on “Saturday Night Live.” After retirement, he became an owner of the Miami Marlins, inspired by late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
At first, it wasn’t obvious that Jeter would go on to stardom, despite being a No. 6 overall pick and getting a $800,000 bonus.
When Heaps first laid eyes on Jeter, he was in plain clothes and had just hopped out of a car driven by one of the coaches.
“We were like, ‘Man, that’s the No. 1 pick? That’s the bonus baby?” Heaps said, laughing. “That’s what everybody behind the scenes (was saying). Guys talk.”
Then they saw Jeter play.
“Just going out on a daily basis in those early-morning drills, working from our knees, working on our hands and how to attack ground balls and playing beside him, watching him do what he did,” Heaps said.
“Man, it was it was special. He was just he knew that he was he was going to be a great player. And one thing that surprised us all was, as skinny as he was, you know? That was the biggest thing. The Yankees knew that we got to put some weight on him. We gotta get this guy on a weight-lifting program, and they did. But he had some pop. But, he’s 6-foot-3 and 160 (pounds), that’s not very thick. But, man, he had some pop in his bat. And turning double plays with him — I would say that that’s probably one of my greatest moments as a player. Being out there and just being one of the guys and say, ‘Hey, man, I used to be on the field with him.’”
Jeter and Heaps each struggled that year. Jeter would hit just .202 before getting promoted to Low-A Greensboro. Heaps would hit .172 before calling it a career not long after turning 20.
Heaps had difficulty adjusting to life so far from home and his family and the everyday grind of baseball. He wanted to coach, instead. Years later, Heaps would read in Jeter’s 2001 autobiography, “The Life You Imagine,” about how Jeter went through the same homesickness and his first real struggles playing baseball but never revealed them.
“It was like reading a book about my own life,” Heaps said.
But while Heaps went home, the legend of Jeter took off. Heaps doesn’t regret finishing when he did. He’s coached for the last 24 years and been a part of six high school state championship teams.
Heaps continued to watch Jeter from afar. Thinking over Jeter’s ascension brought back one more fond memory for Heaps.
Not long after Jeter showed up to Tampa for the first time, a crew of players went car shopping at a dealership that’s still about a block from the Yankees’ training facility to this day. Jeter had his eye on a red Mitsubishi GT-3000. A salesman walked up to Jeter.
“Do you know how much this is?” the salesman asked. “You can’t afford that.”
“We all kind of looked at each other,” Heaps recalled. “He obviously didn’t know who Derek Jeter was.”
Bet he knows now.