Derek Jeter’s Diary: Meditations on Time and Mortality

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.

Wednesday, June 4: vs. Oakland A’s

Nobody lives forever.

It’s a hard fact to confront in your diary. You’d like to think that immortality is an option, but deep down you know that’s not the way things work, and that science probably won’t advance to that point in your lifetime. Death’s not something you like to think about. You like to think about winning, because winning is the meaning of life itself. But sometimes death crosses your path and you can’t step out of the way. You can’t just push it out of your mind.

Like today, when we learned that Don Zimmer passed. You’re sad about it, sure, but then you’re reminded about what a great time Zim had on this planet. He spent 66 years in professional baseball. An entire life. A lot of people don’t even live that long. And he got to spend about eight years with our Yankees team, which you’d have to assume was the most special time of all, winning four championships with the greatest organization in professional sports.

You’re truly blessed to get six decades doing nothing but baseball, and that’s exactly how I plan on doing it, being involved to the very end. Sure, I will have various side businesses, because it would be shortsighted not to diversify in this day and age, but baseball will always be the central thing in my life, just like it was in Zim’s. That’s an example he set. He came from a simpler time, when you didn’t have to start a publishing imprint or maybe invest in some restaurants or start-ups to keep your money working for you. You got drafted, you made your way up in the minors, you got to the big show, you went into coaching and kept doing that forever. When I finish playing this year, I’ll look to buy a team and not coach, but the general idea is the same. To stay connected to the game. And to minimize the travel, because being away from your other responsibilities for too long isn’t going to work. You can’t be an absentee owner or publisher.

I’m going to miss Zim.

Nobody lives forever.

Except maybe Yogi. He got the 10 rings.

Thursday, June 5: vs. Oakland A’s

We squeaked one out tonight for Tanaka. It’s still too early to know what this kid’s going to become, but you have to like what you see so far. He’s a competitor. He wants the ball and wants to finish games. I’ve talked to his translator a bit and he tells me Tanaka only wants to know one word in English: win. You’ve got to admire that in a guy, even if it might lead to some communication problems down the road, especially with his catchers. But when you think about it, you only need that word. I can speak that language with him. I can translate for the others. I’ve been doing that my whole career. I’ve gone months with just that one word, and it’s worked out pretty well.

Friday, June 6: at Kansas City Royals

We won, but the offense has continued to be a problem. Someone told me we’ve scored the same number of runs this year as we did to this point last year. And that’s troubling, because we all know how last season ended. The front office spent a lot of money trying to fix the problem.

But look at the roster. Tex has been out a lot, just like last year. Soriano started out hot when he got here and then cooled off, just like Vernon Wells. Brian Roberts could be a fun-size Eduardo Nunez with gray hair. Kelly Johnson is starting to look a little like Lyle Overbay without the glove. At least there’s no Youkilis. I don’t think we could handle another Youkilis. We’re lucky we survived him in 2013. He could’ve done much more damage if I hadn’t been closely monitoring his activities.

It hasn’t helped matters at all that the new guys, the McCanns and Ellsburys and Beltrans, have gotten off to slow starts. They’re going to need to start picking it up very soon. It’s a long season but it’s not a forever season. That sign is already going up in the locker room back in the Bronx.

As Captain, I don’t write the lineups or make the personnel decisions. But you lead by example and set the tone for the entire organization. And soon that example might have to be freezing out Roberts so Girardi and Brian Cashman get the message that the offense needs a boost at second. They’ll pick up the signals. It starts slowly; maybe a few missed high-fives, maybe you trot off the mound when you’re talking to the pitcher and he tries to make it a full infield conference. Then maybe his locker moves a little farther away from yours. There’s a worse parking spot, near the relievers. You don’t playfully compliment his mullet two days in a row. Powerful sign.

Before you know it Johnson finally gets a start at second, or one of the kids in the minors tearing up Double- and Triple-A. You hate to do it, but sometimes for the good of the team you have to. The one word you know isn’t feelings. It’s win. You don’t have time to mess around with feelings in your final season. Just winning.

Saturday, June 7: at Kansas City Royals

A lot of people seemed to think we’d be signing Kendrys Morales after the draft to add a little depth behind Teixeira and Beltran. Insurance. But he signed with Minnesota. Very interesting play for them. Any time a last-place team has the chance to add a bat who hasn’t played since September, it has to take it. You don’t get the chance to make a power move on Kansas City very often. You might be able to make a run on third place before you know it if things break right for you.

Speaking of the draft, the Yankees drafted Mo’s kid. Mariano Rivera III, up at Iona in Westchester. Starting pitcher. Last year we also drafted Pettitte’s kid and Paulie O’Neill’s nephew. Maybe we’re already building a new dynasty for the future. Of course, I don’t have my sons yet, but they’ll be along eventually to establish a championship core of their own. If I want to contribute to this next wave I might have to adopt someone already in the farm system. No, he won’t have my genes, unless there’s some kind of secret German procedure that could transfer my DNA to a promising middle infielder. It might be worth looking into while I get my family started. Could be nice to have a part in the transitional dynasty before my bio-dynasty arrives.

Sunday, June 8: at Kansas City Royals

One run tonight. We have to do better. The New York papers are asking Jorgie if he wants to come out of retirement to help.

I shout across the visitors’ clubhouse to Brian Roberts, whose locker is now next to a bullpen call-up. “You think Posada could play second base? He got an inning there in 2011.”

Everyone laughs. Even Roberts.

I make eye contact with Girardi. I see him him type something into his iPad.

He gets the signal.

Monday, June 9: Off Day

You never listen to what other people are saying about you, because you just have to go out there and play your game. But sometimes the chatter reaches you despite your best efforts to block it out, in the form of newspaper clippings carefully pasted to the commissioner’s official parchment that somehow finds its way into your road-trip luggage. And some of that chatter’s saying I can’t catch up with the fastball anymore. That maybe I need to be hitting lower in the lineup. That maybe I need to be taking more days off.

I’m in the best shape of my life because I had a year to get healthy. I want to be out there every game. Every inning. Maybe my bat’s not quite as quick as it once was, but you can’t expect that when you’re almost 40 years old and in your 20th season. But my brain is quicker. The infield becomes a chessboard, and I’m always thinking three plays ahead, both at the plate and on defense. I’m always in the on-deck circle in my mind, picking up every nuance of the game. There’s more to baseball than hitting the ball over the wall. I’ll take a walk and beat you with my mind.

So keep throwing me the fastball. Tell me it’s coming.

See if I catch up to it.

Jeets-Zim-Tri

Tuesday, June 10: at Seattle Mariners

I wake up very early in the morning to a violent rattling in my hotel room.

I go to the closet by instinct, but that’s not it. Nothing in there but hangers and clothes.

The rattling starts again.

I follow the sound.

To the minibar.

I open it.

And I see A-Rod’s face there.

“Hi, Jetes.”

“Why aren’t you coming through the closet?”

“Not sure. The closet’s blocked somehow. Never happened before.”

“Huh. That’s weird.”

“I had to come through the minidrobe.”

“I see that.”

“The important thing is that I’m here. I have a very important question to ask you.”

“Where did all the little liquor bottles go?”

“Into the wardrobe world.”

“Did you drink them, Alex?”

“I did not.”

“Your eyes are a little bloodshot.”

“That’s from the strain of traveling through the minidrobe. It’s quite cramped, Jetes.”

“OK.”

“And that’s not the question. The question is important.”

“Go ahead then.”

“Do you ever think about death, Jetes?”

“Is this about Zim?”

“What’s a Zim?”

“Zim. The bench coach.”

“Did something happen to old Mr. Zip?”

“Never mind.”

“Nobody lives forever.”

“I know it.”

“Not even in the wardrobe. If I stay in here I only have between 300 and 500 years.”

“That sounds like a long time, Alex.”

“It’s the blink of an eye, Jetes.”

“If you say so.”

“I have a legacy to establish.”

“Then you’d better get started. Time is precious. When it’s up you never get more of it.”

“That’s so deep, Jetes. I knew I could count on you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I’m going to go now. Will you do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Close the door to the minidrobe. I can’t do it with my face.”

“You got it, Alex.”

I close the door.

“I love you, Jetes.”

I open it again.

Alex’s head is gone.

But the minibar is full of tiny, empty bottles.

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

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Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

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