Derek Jeter’s Diary: Heroic Lizards, Magical Dirt, and the Riddle of the True Yankee

The baseball season is a long and lonely road. To preserve his sanity, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter keeps a diary. These are excerpts from The Captain’s private journal.

Thursday, May 22: at Chicago White Sox

There’s still a lot of baseball to play this season, so you don’t want to be thinking about anything other than the games in front of you. You don’t want those outside distractions. But sometimes distractions are unavoidable, and it would be shortsighted to neglect the stuff that’s going to define your post-playing life. If you think of retirement as one very long game you also have to win, taking some time out for essential non-baseball work is consistent with your worldview.

So I’ve been stealing some free moments here and there to work on my first book for Jeter Publishing. It’s called The Contract. It’s fiction, but based on my life. It’s about a boy named Derek Jeter who dreams of playing for the New York Yankees. A boy who imagines he’s going to win a World Series with them one day. A boy who overcomes adversity because his coaches place him at second base when he knows in his heart of hearts that his true position is shortstop. Of course, he’ll play wherever the coaches tell him, because even as a child he has a healthy respect for authority and for the game; being a kid is no excuse for lacking those qualities. The boy takes his fielding practice at second base. He doesn’t demand to hit second in the lineup or wear the no. 2. He just plays the game the right way and gives 100 percent, because you’re not allowed to give 110 percent until the higher Little Leagues because of overcaution about effort-based injuries to the growing body.

And maybe most important, because it’s the title of the book, the boy signs a contract with his parents that he has to keep his grades up or give up baseball, just like I did in real life. So in addition to being an inspirational story full of crucial life lessons, it’s also an introduction to sports contract law. It’s never too early to begin planning for your career. Agents could approach you as early as the third grade, especially when you display talent and an advanced feel for the game at a very early age. It’s always better to be prepared than a victim. Not everyone has parents as honest and supportive as the boy does.

It’s a great book and I’m very proud of it. It comes out in the last week of the regular season, timed for our stretch run to the playoffs, so that everyone who might buy it can see how all of its lessons pay off down the line, if you believe in yourself and totally dedicate yourself to winning from the first moment you pick up a glove.

You hate to spoil how the book ends in your diary, but the boy gets moved to shortstop. Maybe you see it coming, but it’s still a pretty satisfying moment. It’s not a suspense thriller. We’ll publish those too. I’ve got a promising idea for a series about a retired shortstop detective who solves baseball mysteries.

Friday, May 23: at Chicago White Sox

As Captain, it’s your responsibility to pick up your teammates in the rare instances they don’t do their jobs. So when David Robertson, our new closer, gives up a walk-off homer to Adam Dunn, I’m there for him right away. I see the disappointed look in his eye as he leaves the field. I take him aside and remind him he’s our guy. He’s not auditioning for the gig anymore.

“Mo wouldn’t have blown that game,” he says.

“Maybe not,” I say. “But you don’t have to be Mo. He’s an impossible act to follow.”

He smiles. He’ll be better next time. We both believe it.

I got the same speech about Tony Fernandez after a tough game in 1996. I leave that part out. A Captain knows which part of a story is the important part.

Saturday, May 24: at Chicago White Sox

We retake the lead on a Jacoby Ellsbury home run in the top of the 10th. It’s a big hit for him because he’d been in a pretty bad slump, and it’s extremely important for any arriving free agent to start off his career with the Yankees in positive fashion, especially the ones who get huge contracts. This was a good step in the right direction for him. He’s very eager to feel like a full member of the team.

When I meet him on the top step of the dugout for his post-homer fist bump, I can see it in his eyes. It’s almost like they’re asking me, “True Yankee now?” You have to break eye contact immediately. Otherwise he might realize in the way you look back that as a former Red Sox, he’s eternally ineligible to be a True Yankee. But that’s no reason he can’t have a very successful career here and help us win championships. Guys like Wade Boggs and Rocket and Johnny Damon got rings and did fine as Provisional Yankees. They learned to accept their status. You get to wear the Pinstripes even though you won’t ever get to be the Pinstripes.

D-Rob nails down the save in the 10th. You’d never take credit for how quickly he bounced back from a crushing disappointment, but it’s hard not to draw some kind of cause-and-effect relationship there. There’s an incredible power in storytelling. Everyone at Jeter Publishing knows it.

Back at the hotel, I start outlining a new title called The Speech.

Jeets-Couch-Tri

Sunday, May 25: at Chicago White Sox

It’s Farewell Tour Ceremony Day on the South Side, probably my last game in Chicago. The White Sox give me a bench made of bats and bases, and a very small, but very appreciated, $5,000 check for my foundation. They also give me some dirt from the shortstop area of the infield at U.S. Cellular Field. That’s by far my favorite part of the gift, and the most meaningful. There’s something elemental about infield dirt that a shortstop really connects with. It’s what makes up your home on the diamond. There have been many nights when I’ve sneaked back on the field at the Stadium after everyone else has already gone home, kicked off my shoes, and felt the shortstop dirt between my toes as I scooped up imaginary grounders. I felt connected to the Scooter Rizzutos and Bucky Dents and Roy Smalleys that came before me. Even the Ozzie Smiths and Cal Ripkens and Luis Aparicios. We’re all a brotherhood in the dirt.

I look over at Paul Konerko, who they sent out to present the gifts because he’s also retiring, to see if he can tell how moved I am.

I can tell he doesn’t get it.

He played first base.

Monday, May 26: at St. Louis Cardinals

We win another one in extras. Twelve innings. You like to win in extra innings almost as much as you like to win by a healthy margin in regular innings, because getting that W is the only thing that matters. But I leave this one pretty amped up, so I head out to catch a movie to unwind a little before returning to the hotel. I love to go to the movies. It’s one of my favorite leisure activities, even if I don’t get to go as often as I’d like during the season.

So I slip into a multiplex near the hotel to see Godzilla. I hear it’s good.

Halfway through the movie I pause for a bathroom break. You hate to take breaks, because you don’t want to miss anything. There’s nothing worse than stepping out of the theater and missing something important while you’re in the men’s room.

I’m finishing up my business when I hear it.

“Pssst.”

And then again, louder, when I try to ignore it.

“Pssst.”

It’s coming from the next stall over.

I look down and see four hooves underneath the stall.

“Hey, Jetes.”

And then I look up to see a pair of blue eyes peeking over the stall wall.

“How, Alex?”

“Bathroom wardrobe, Jetes. Great game tonight.”

“Can we make this quick? I don’t want to miss the movie.”

“What are you watching?”

“The new Godzilla one.”

“Monster movie.”

“Yeah.”

His eyes quiver.

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Quickly. Come on.”

“Am I a monster, Jetes?”

“Of course not, Alex.”

“Am I an ugly monster destroying your favorite city?”

“No.”

“That’s right. I’m actually a beautiful creature who will save your city. Just like the Zilla, Jetes.”

“No spoilers.”

“Sorry, I saw it earlier. I was bored.”

“I’m going to go back and finish the movie now, Alex.”

“A-zilla.”

I’m not calling you that.”

“You’re right. Lizards are disgusting.”

“These bathroom visits are getting weird.”

“I go where the wardrobes are, Jetes. A ’drobe’s a ’drobe.”

“Good-bye, Alex.”

I let the stall door swing shut behind me and go back to the movie.

It’s really good.

The lizard is kind of disgusting.

Jeets-Cards-Tri

Tuesday, May 27: at St. Louis Cardinals

Saying good-bye to St. Louis is going to be tougher than a lot of the other places we’ll visit this season. Like their fans will remind you every chance they get, it’s definitely an above-average baseball town. I’m standing near the on-deck circle when I see the guy holding a sign that says “Derek Jeter Classy Enough 2 Be a Cardinal.” It’s a touching thought to be considered worthy of an organization with the second-most world championships in baseball history, just 15 or 16 behind the Yankees, which is a real achievement. You’d never see a sign like that in, say, Boston, where they’re a lot less secure in their tradition, maybe because they’re more of a hockey city.

I hand the guy with the sign a small box with the Cardinals logo on it. He opens it and his eyes go wide. Inside are the Stan Musial cuff links the team gave me yesterday. I’d promised them to Phelpsy, who grew up here, but this felt like the classier move. Phelpsy didn’t make me a nice sign.

Wednesday, May 28: at St. Louis Cardinals

Girardi gives me the day off, but we come away with another big win to finish out our Midwestern road trip. In the dugout during the game, the guys grab Joe’s iPad and read me a column written to my unborn children. It’s a little over the top, and I’m not even sure if they’re just making it up as they go along, so between innings I duck into the clubhouse to see if I can find it for myself.

When I get there a clubbie wearing a throwback uniform I don’t recognize hands me a scroll. I read it.

Dear Offspring of The Captain,

Know that your Father, if he ever Settles down 

to bring your forth from his Selfish Loins

Was an inveterate Cocks-Man

Soft of Hands and strong of Arm

but leaden of Range and weak of Character.

Know also that your Mother was a poor Actress from The C and W

Met at a filthy Meade Hall with extravagant Goblet Service.

And Our Grande Game is better off without him.

Very Truly Yours,

A.H. Selig

Commissioner of the Base-Ball

Post-Script — Please take up Soccer

It was definitely not the stuff the guys read to me in the dugout.

Filed Under: MLB, Derek Jeter, Derek Jeter's Diary, Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees, Baseball, Repugnant Yankee Homerism, Captain's Log

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Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

Archive @ marklisanti