I heard a new complaint about Derek Jeter this off-season. I was on a date with a very pretty brunette and she told me she was from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Of course, being a diehard Yankee fan, I said that the only thing I knew about her hometown was the Yankee Captain. When I said that, she made a face and I expected some typical feedback about Jeter. Mind you, she had Curtis Granderson as her favorite athlete on her Facebook page, so she wasn’t clueless. She tells me that on a normal day in Kalamazoo you can get across town in seven minutes, but when Jeter was in town it was more like two hours. She said it was worse than when the President comes to town. But to take a quote out of Babe Ruth’s book when he said he deserved to be paid more than Herbert Hoover in 1930, Jeter also had a better year than the President.
Others have been writing Derek Jeter off for years, but he keeps going out to man the shortstop position for the New York Yankees season in and season out. Over the last sixteen seasons, the Captain has played at least 148 games every year save two. When he was in his prime years, he was being compared to two other great shortstops: Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada. And while Jeter has gotten off to a hot start following the season in which he got his 3,000 hit (the very first Yankee to do so) I think Nomar is a soccer dad and it looks like Tejada has finally hung ‘em up having not played a full season since 2009.
Now, as he turns thirty-eight this season, Derek Jeter is still toward the cream of the crop of shortstops in the mighty American League East division. Yes, it’s early in 2012 but Jeter’s .355/.394/.942 is blowing away the early competition. The Sox’s Aviles is hitting .227 and that’s the best average among the other four shortstops in the division. And while JJ Hardy put up some impressive power numbers in 2011 (30hr/80RBI), Jeter’s .297/.355/.743 season last year despite playing injured in the early part of the season are very healthy. Nearly ten years his junior, Toronto’s Yunel Escobar came closest last season posting a .290/.369/.782.
While injuries are a part of the game and can often be used to explain away less than stellar statistics I want to proffer a theory in regard to Derek Jeter. This time I steal a quote from yet another all-time great New York Yankees, Joe DiMaggio, but I believe that Jeter wants to go out there every single game no matter what, “Because there’s always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.” That the kid most likely has his famous number two on his back is probably not lost on Jeter either.
In a sports-world that more and more emphasizes the individual player than the team, Derek Jeter is a throwback of such monumental importance that linking him to Yankee lore right alongside Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio is not farfetched in the least. I think even the idea of Jeter’s past “party animal” reputation was more from TV commercials than from reality. Sure, he’s a pretty bad newspaper quote, although he’s becoming something of a master of the one-line quip.
But I am even going so far as to state that I think even Jeter’s romantic affairs with pop divas, actresses and models are good for his performance and thus good for the team. He’s dating high-profile busy women who I would think understand his lifestyle and dedication to the field more than say, a wife at home with his young children would. Just a theory, but baseball still seems like The Captain’s number one priority even after seventeen seasons.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Derek Jeter’s defense. Yes, there are statisticians who will tell you that Jeter is the worst fielding shortstop in the history of the game. Yes, we heard the “Pasta Diving Jeter” jokes a few seasons back, but I watch this guy play short about a hundred and forty times a season every season and still have confidence that he will make the plays that need to be made. Sure, he’s lost a step here, some zip on a throw there, but still when he goes in the hole, you expect him to make that patented throw across the diamond like he’s done year in and year out. And he usually does.
Personally, it is a great pleasure to watch a man who has this much pride in himself, his team and the sport play the game the way it was meant to be played. I will admit that I am loyal to my Yankee shortstops. It took a homerun one early October afternoon up in Fenway for a guy nicknamed “Bucky” to make me forget a guy nicknamed “Chicken,” but I don’t think any of us will ever forget The Captain, Derek Jeter, the greatest shortstop in the long and storied history of the New York Yankees. And I didn’t even mention the “flip play.”
It has very little to do with baseball (Yankee Stadium does get mentioned in one story) but my first book came out this week. For more info and/or to purchase, click here: https://www.createspace.com/3527985