By Jason Klein
As Seen in In New York Magazine – 6/25/12
Derek Jeter doesn’t want to talk about himself. Heck, he doesn’t even want to hear someone else talk about him.
Believe me. I tried.
I met with Jeter on Tuesday afternoon, at his place of business, Yankee Stadium. A group of fifty children had just finished up an on-field clinic, coordinated by Steiner Sports Marketing, and had since gathered out in the centerfield bleachers. Sitting along with their parents, they anxiously awaited their chance to chat with the Captain of the Yankees.
I was there to emcee the question and answer session – a staple of most Steiner Sports events – and decided to give Jeter the type of introduction an athlete of his stature rightfully deserves. I was prepared to mention his Rookie of the Year Award, all of the Gold Gloves, the All-Star appearances, “The Flip,” “The Dive,” the fist pumps, his 3,000 hits, and of course, his 5 World Series Rings. It was the proper thing to do, no question.
Jeter arrived on time sporting his familiar game day attire, personalized Brand Jordan cleats, and Yankees cap pulled down low – like his reputation, the curve on his brim was flawless. Everyone stopped to stare at him upon his arrival, as if Superman had entered the building. A hero to Yankees fans, the shortstop was wearing his signature “Jeter Shield” logo across his chest, instead of a Super “S.”
I sat down next to Jeter – we shared a bleacher seat – took a deep breath, briefly introduced myself to the audience, and then began my pinstriped soliloquy:
“I have the pleasure of introducing someone who really doesn’t need an introduction…” I started.
Then, it happened.
“So don’t introduce me…hi everyone!” interrupted Jeter.
Derek Jeter cut me off like an errant throw from the outfield. I quickly recovered.
“I’ll do it anyway,” I said.
I was determined to deliver my premeditated homage to the star player. I continued:
“The guy right here to my right, drafted by the Yankees…”
It happened again.
“No, no, no, you don’t have to do all that,” Jeter interjected again. This time, defiantly waiving his arms above his head. “Hi, I’m Derek.” He said.
He’s just Derek. Simple as that.
The Kalamazoo Kid has never been one to hog the spotlight, or discuss his personal achievements. It’s just not his style. Throughout his legendary career, Derek Jeter has maintained a very consistent message. His priorities are his teammates, and his mission statement is to win championships. Period.
It’s a theme that permeated our chat.
Jeter was asked to decipher which of his seventeen seasons he cherished most. His answer was confident, and decisive, like his swing.
“‘96, ‘98, ‘99, 2000, and 2009. All five of them,” Jeter said. “We won all of those years.”
Many of the little sluggers listening in weren’t born when confetti rained down on those teams from the late nineties. I asked Jeter to explain to them what made those World Series teams so special. His response reinforced his selfless stance.
“The only thing we cared about was winning. That was it. We didn’t care about statistics. I can’t tell you what anyone hit on those particular teams, but I can tell you we won a lot of games. The only thing that mattered to us was winning.”
When asked for his thoughts on potentially catching Pete Rose and his record 4,256 career hits, Jeter dodged the question admitting, “I’m just trying to make it to 7:00 tonight. Rose is a long way away.”
I couldn’t break him. His team-oriented responses are polished, professional, and genuine. He consistently looks you in the eye with every noble word he speaks.
He’s just as dependable on the field. He shot down any notion he plays differently in big games against the rival Red Sox, stating: “There are more fans, but I try to play the same all the time.”
Jeter was unflappable throughout the session, hitting all of his points with the same consistency he does a baseball.
One audience member wondered how Jeter was able to get over the 2004 ALCS collapse to the Red Sox, admitting he had not yet recovered. Jeter responded with: “Time to let it go buddy.” Then adding, “When you lose it’s tough, but you have to be able to turn the page.”
The reply gave insight into his tremendous composure and focus on the field.
Rather than boast about his triumphs, Jeter chose to use the open forum to communicate uplifting messages to the throng of adoring kids. He urged them to “get good grades,” and “be willing to work harder than everyone else.” He also told them to “try and have fun and stay as positive as possible.”
There is no one in the game more positive than Jeter. Always confident and smiling, Jeter tries to avoid all negativity, a trait that will ultimately keep him out of the broadcast booth once his Hall of Fame career comes to an end.
“I have a hard time criticizing people,” he said. “There’s no chance I’ll ever be in the broadcast booth. I know what it’s like to fail. I know what it’s like to be out there and struggle.”
He also knows a lot about success. He’s had a ton of it over the course of his seventeen seasons with the Yankees.
You could ask him about all of his triumphs. Chances are, he won’t elaborate too much. You see, Derek Jeter doesn’t want to talk about himself. In his eyes, he’s no bigger than anyone else on the team.
He’s just Derek. Simple as that.
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