On June 14, just six base-knocks short of the 3,000-hit milestone, Yankees captain and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Derek Jeter was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade I calf strain, delaying his latest brush with baseball immortality. Anyone familiar with Jeter’s legendary competitiveness knows a DL stint was not the shortstop’s choice; even during a season in which signs of the inevitable advance of age were more noticeable than ever — the constant flow of infield dribblers weaker than the diminished stream of an inflamed-prostate sufferer, the total evaporation of his once-vaunted gap power, a lessened desire to quietly humiliate Alex Rodriguez — the 37-year-old still feels as if he’s just a couple of 3-for-4 games from reclaiming his MVP-level mojo. To cope with the crushing frustration of his two-week stint on the sidelines, The Captain has been jotting down his thoughts in a daily diary for Grantland, which we can now exclusively share with our readers.
Yesterday, against Cleveland, I came up limping to first on a lazy fly to right. I had to come out of the game right away, got shuttled over to NY-Presbo for an MRI. Grade I strain in my calf. I can still walk. I can jog, so whatever. I don’t care that I’m short of 3,000. The team needs me. I’m gonna play. I always play. Maybe I miss a couple games, but 15 days is out of the question. I sit down with Cashman, Girardi, and Chris Ahmad, the doc, and I tell them there’s no way I’m going on the DL. No way. I’ll be playing in five days. Four. Max.
Don’t bet against three, is all I’m saying. See you tomorrow. I’m sure it’ll feel much better.
They put me on the DL. 15 days! This blows. I let the press know this was NOT my idea. I’ll do what they say. They want to be overly cautious, fine. But I want to play. I made my case. I told Cash and Joe that I’m the Captain, and Yankees captains have special powers of healing, like Wolverine, which Willie Randolph and Mattingly taught me when they were here. They didn’t bite. So I spent the whole night in my hyperbaric chamber, turned it up way past “Terrell Owens,” cranked all the way to the “Lazarus” level. Still no dice. So, DL.
When was the last time I was even on the DL? 2003, when that catcher fell on my shoulder? I don’t even remember his name. Mike Huckabee? I’m not sure he’s still playing. Or alive. You crush a Yankees Captain on Opening Day and you’re inviting some bad karma. I’m not saying I hope he’s dead. I don’t. I’m saying I don’t know. That was a tough time for everybody. This isn’t going to be easy, either. God, I hope Mike Huckabee isn’t dead. Really. I’m gonna have my agent check tomorrow. He’s probably got a nice car dealership somewhere. Maybe part of a restaurant. He’s fine.
Can’t sleep. At all. Snuck out of bed, left Minka there, then spent two hours standing on the roof of my building, like Batman. Back in the dynasty days, Mayor Giuliani even used to shine a giant number 2 over Manhattan each night we were playing at home — my own Bat-signal, letting me know the city needed me. Then we lost to the Diamondbacks, Bloomberg came in, and that was that. No more Jeet-signal. Bloomy’s a fucking Red Sox fan. Unbelievable. But I still come up here sometimes, just looking out over the city, listening. Tonight I can hear it crying out, “We need you, Derek. Come back soon. Eduardo Nunez isn’t taking us to the Series.” I tell the city that’s a little messed up. Nuney is a good kid, he’s doing his best. We’ll be fine.
Oh, great. Some joker has 2,994 lit up in his window. Hey, guy, it’s not about 3,000. It’s about winning. I don’t care that I’m six hits away. Six hits is nothing. I’ll eat six hits for breakfast tomorrow. That makes no sense. I need to sleep. This is the worst.
The team’s in Chicago. Wrigley. That would’ve been fun. Yeah, I could’ve gotten 3,000 there, but I’m in Tampa for rehab. Taking it slow. Too slow. We won against the Cubbies. Nuney went 2-for-4 Good on him. You know what I did today? I got home (if you call it St. Jetersburg I’ll punch you in the face. Try me), took out my Series rings, all five of them, and I detailed them with a toothpick. ’96 was super-grimy. I really had to dig in the crannies. So yeah, that’s what you do when you’re not playing.
Bartolo’s in Tampa, too, rehabbing. You ever see a guy eat a three-pound steak? You want to tell him, hey, pace yourself, it’s lunch. But everyone’s got their own routine. All you can do is lead by the example of not eating a three-pound steak.
Minka came down to Tampa. Said she was worried about how bummed I sounded on the phone. I’m fine. Usually I won’t let her visit on a rehab trip, but I’m bored. We stayed in and watched her movie, The Roommate, again. It went like this:
“Hey, that Leighton Meester looks just like you.”
“Are you saying you’re attracted to her?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“If you’re attracted to me, and she looks like me, you’re attracted to her.”
“I’m just saying she looks like you. That’s all. The whole movie is about that!”
“I know what you were saying.”
Next thing I know I’m trying to sleep on the couch in Highlight Room Two, underneath the giant flat-screen that plays The Flip on a loop. You can’t even turn it off. So it’s Jeremy Giambi and me, all night long. Not as fun as it sounds.
The rings are sparkling. I named them, each for a great Yankee champion:
Hey, I’m not sleeping on the couch again. I’m not an idiot.
Everyone’s talking about who’s batting leadoff when I return. Gardy’s getting hot, so are they gonna keep him there, put me back first, or whatever. Grandy’s having an MVP season, so batting second is probably off the table. I wouldn’t want to mess with that. But has anyone ever asked me if I care where I hit? First? Second? Eighth? Ninth? No, they haven’t. I wouldn’t say no if they asked me to hit at the bottom of the lineup. I’d never say no, have a Jorge Moment. Sure, I might freeze them out a little, and the total withdrawal of my love would cause them incredible, unbearable pain, and they’d probably feel like God suddenly drained all the goodness from the world. But I wouldn’t say no. Go ahead, ask me to hit ninth, I’m not going to bite you. But that’s not to say maybe there aren’t consequences out of my control, mostly.
The key to rehab, when you’re away from the guys on the team, is to make sure you have a hobby to keep you occupied in your downtime so you don’t go crazy. You know, something besides this diary. So I sit out in the Great Hall with my easel and watercolors, trying to recreate the LeRoy Neiman interpretation of the classic Sports Illustrated “Five Shirtless Shortstops ’97″ spread I commissioned for the new house. I’m not even going to say what that thing cost me. (A lot.) But I will say that I’ve had no luck capturing Rey Ordonez’s look of smoky determination. So elusive. Anyway, remember Rey? Three Gold Gloves, that’s cute. Last year, for a goof, I sent him a Polaroid of my five GGs. I also tucked a couple hundred bucks in there for him. He had a nice little career, but you never know how a guy handled his money. Oh, by the way, my agent Casey found Mike Huckabee. He’s fine, totally alive. That’s a relief. Also, he’s Ken Huckaby.
The calf’s still got a little twinge in it. Not worrying yet. Still seven days ’til they can un-DL me. Which they will.
So I go over to rehab today and Bartolo’s reading something on his iPad, laughing his ass off. I don’t go on the Internet, but A-Rod’s sent him a blog to show me. “No Jeter? No Problem.” What the F, New York Times? They call Nuney “energetic” and say he has “more range.” Yeah, watch him dig one out in the hole and then fire it into the Legends seats. You’ve got to play under control. I might not get to those balls anymore, but I’m not going to knock a $20 beer out of a Goldman exec’s hand. Don’t get too comfortable, Nuney. I’m back in six days.
Been out on the field, throwing for four straight days, testing the calf a little. It’s still not there. So now they’re saying I won’t be ready to come off the DL on Wednesday. We tell the Post there’s no timetable, and everyone’s talking about how much longer I’m going to be out. Great.
I get home and Minka’s just read on some gossip blog that the Charlie’s Angels producers supposedly tried to get Leighton Meester from Gossip Girl before they went out to her for the new show. “She’s not hot enough for that part,” I offer.
That was not the right answer.
Me and Jeremy Giambi have another great night together. If this happens again, I’m going to Highlight Room Four and sleeping under The Dive.
Text from A-Rod this morning: “Heard about the setback. Eduardo’s looking good. Miss u, buddy.” I immediately call my favorite clubbie, have him hide Nuney’s clothes and leave only a jock covered in Bengay in his locker after the game. Jorge forces him to wear it home. Swisher sends me a video of Nuney crying a little. Now I feel like an asshole.
To take my mind off it, I spend a good two hours at the easel, flailing away at my totally inept representation of Ordonez’s eyes. I know this is an impressionistic thing, just splashes of color here and there, but I can’t quite get it. The shadow over Edgar Renteria’s left pec, Alex Gonzalez’s delicate right nipple, A-Rod’s stupid elf ears, these all come easy, like a liner in the right-center gap on an outside pitch. But Rey’s eyes, nothing. I hate painting. I hate being hurt. I hate my calf.
I am coming off the DL on the 29th if it kills me.
It’s my birthday. 37. I don’t care. Every year, Mariah sings an amazing “Happy Birthday” to my voicemail. (I have great relationships with all my exes, “Page Six” can’t touch me. Hi, “Page Six!”) I delete it without listening.
A-Rod’s sent over a giant cake in the shape of the number 2,994. “So close, buddy! See you soon!” reads the card.
Minka hardly notices my lack of birthday cheer. She’s watching Gossip Girl, muttering something about how Chuck Bass would never treat her that way.
Nuney has the game-winning hit against the Rockies.
The team, in first place, has won 9 of 12 games without me.
Two straight days of rain in Tampa, so no on-field drills, further stalling my progress. Bartolo offers to cheer me up by playing our favorite rehab game, where I pretend I’m Indiana Jones and he’s the giant boulder trying to crush me. I pretend not to notice his dejected look when I decline. “I got you this, Dr. Jones,” he says, handing me a replica of Indy’s fedora with the interlocking NY logo stitched above the brim. Great, I’m becoming a monster. The old Jeet would have let him roll over me and have his fun.
A text comes in from Cashman: “Take your time, get healthy. See Nuney’s game-winner yesterday? Really happy with his development.”
I return home to a note from Minka. She had to fly to L.A. immediately to test for a movie Leighton Meester had been circling. I notice she’s finished my painting. Ordonez’s eyes are perfect.
I lay down underneath The Flip, eventually drifting off as Giambi fails to slide, over and over again.
I will get on a plane to New York tonight.
I will return from the disabled list tomorrow, miraculously healed. Try and stop me.
I will come to the plate six times.
I will collect six hits, including the game-winner.
And everyone will be waiting for me at home plate.
[Ed. Note: Derek Jeter is still on the disabled list. He has decided to discontinue his diary to focus on his rehab.]
Mark Lisanti is a Yankees fan living in Los Angeles. He misses his Captain.