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NEW YORK (PIX11) – Yankees captain Derek Jeter made a heroic return to his team Thursday, after an ankle injury had kept him off the Bronx Bombers’ roster all season.  By contrast, Jeter’s lower-profile, but higher-paid superstar teammate Alex Rodriguez is back in the limelight, but not for heroics.  He’s preparing to try and save his career in front of a sports doping panel.

Jeter’s return wasn’t scheduled to happen until tomorrow at the earliest, but injuries to other Yankees players opened up a hole in the roster.  The team brought Captain Comeback in from physical rehab on their AAA minor league team in Scranton to fill the deficits.  He converted those minuses into pluses.

“You’ll hear as soon as he goes up to bat how much he means to the fans and to this team,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi predicted before the game against the Kansas City Royals, into which Jeter was brought as a designated hitter.  He ended up, at his first at bat, setting up the team’s first run, and later batting in another run for the Yankees’ 8-4 victory.

“When I saw Jeter come up to bat today, it was a source of great pride,” said Robert Mann, a professor at Caldwell College, New Jersey, who’s a baseball historian with a specialization in the New York Yankees.  However, he told PIX11 News, “The whole A-Rod return was, for a fan, a source of embarrassment and disgust, really.”

Professor Mann was referring to the separate and contrasting appearances, a day apart, of Jeter, and fellow standout Alex Rodriguez.  A-Rod has spent this season trying to recover from hip surgery with the Yankees’ single-A minor league team in Florida.

“I’m assuming he’s playing in Tampa again today,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi  said.  “Nobody’s told me otherwise.”

It was a stark contrast from the adoring terms in which Girardi had described Derek Jeter returning to the clubhouse in the Bronx. The difference might have been due to A-Rod’s expected appearance Friday in front of investigators from Major League Baseball.

Specifically, the $29 million-per-year player is widely expected to go before an MLB doping investigation panel in Tampa.  The panel has the authority to recommend that A-Rod receive a lengthy suspension for performance enhancing drug use.  The suspension could possibly be for life.

“I support him, I do,” said Yankees fan Gina Anastasio outside of Yankee Stadium right before the game.  She was, however, wearing a t-shirt with the words ‘Jeter Owns New York’ emblazoned across the front.

“He’s been though a lot,” said fan Bill Scully about Alex Rodriguez.  “You don’t want to knock a guy when he’s down.”

They were among the fans trying to be loyal to A-Rod, despite the situation he’s in.  But as the Yankees historian pointed out, Rodriguez’s situation, as serious as it is, pales in significance to Jeter’s inspiration.

“For most fans, Jeter transcends the situation,” Prof. Mann of Caldwell College said.  “You almost can’t put them on the same level.  As great as A-Rod is, he’s not the heart and soul of the New York Yankees.  Derek Jeter is.”

Other aspects of Jeter are being looked at closely now by team physicians.  He was pulled from Thursday’s game in the 8th inning after reporting a tightness in a quadricep muscle.

Jeter will undergo an MRI scan, and if it tests out okay, he is expected to play in Friday’s game against Kansas City.