While the New York Times’ Ben Shpigel covers the religious background of Mets utility hopeful David Newhan (paging Charlie Ward! We’ve got a Jew 4 Jesus in Port St. Lucie!), his Gray Lady colleague Jack Curry hops in the time machine with god-fearing former Yankee Chad Curtis.

Long before Alex Rodriguez started spring training by saying that he and Derek Jeter are not as friendly as they once were and Jeter responded by refusing to discuss their relationship, Curtis (above, right) helped ignite the first controversy involving them.

During a brawl between the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners in August 1999, Curtis was irked when he noticed that Jeter was acting nonchalantly off to the side with Rodriguez. Jeter smiled when Rodriguez told him he would get him if there was another skirmish in the game. One Yankee had been punched and another had been plunked, and Curtis felt Jeter should have shunned an opponent like Rodriguez, even though they were close friends at the time.

Curtis confronted Jeter near the dugout and in the clubhouse. With teammates and reporters watching, Curtis scolded him. Curtis told Jeter he was a good player, but that he did not know how to play the game.

œI constantly self-evaluate, Curtis said Wednesday in a telephone interview. œWas I wrong? Did I do something wrong? Maybe what I said was proper. The way I said it, where I said it and when I said it, wasn™t proper.

Curtis said that the last time he went to a Tigers-Yankees game in Detroit, he spoke with Jeter, who was œcordial and nice because that™s who he is. But after Curtis said he did not think Jeter held a grudge, he added that he ended the conversation feeling there was œsomething there.

œI think he thinks, ˜This is the guy I had that incident with,™  Curtis said. œThat™s the part I regret.

When other reporters are boring us to death with endless non-stories about the Jeter/A-Rod lovers’ tiff, full credit to the Journal News’ Peter Abraham, who has used his downtime to take a snapshot of Steinbrenner’s Rascal.