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, August 28: at Detroit Tigers
This is my final season as a player in Major League Baseball.
It’s a fact that dawns on you a little more every day. Every game. Every inning. Every pitch.
And there’s no going back. When the season’s over, it’s over. There will be no re-running the farewell tour next year if things don’t end the way you want them to. You can’t just tell everybody, “Hey, thanks for all the gifts and the scoreboard tributes and the donations to the Turn 2 Foundation and the personal good-byes from the living legends, but I’m going to take one more crack at this next April.” At some point you did your soul-searching, you said, “This is it,” and then you wrote up your retirement announcement and sent it up to the Facebook so the world would know. The decision was made. You can’t unmake a decision. It’s impossible. You can make a second decision to not honor your first decision, but that’s not the kind of person you are. A Captain follows through on what he says he’s going to do.
And this Captain also said he was going to do everything in his power to bring one more championship to the Yankees before he retired. That’s still the goal. That’s always been the goal. Even if it’s been a while since he’s written down that pledge in his diary yet another time, because he was busy reflecting on a special experience he had a week ago rather than recording it in writing.
A week ago, this Captain sat in a chair in our locker room before a game with Houston while two of his teammates held a Gatorade bucket full of ice above his head, called out the name of legendary Yankee Captain Lou Gehrig, and took the challenge that is trying to raise money to wipe out the terrible disease that bears his name.
When CC and Tanaka turned over the bucket, something strange happened. The ice water didn’t immediately come pouring over my head. Instead, time stopped. The clubhouse went black and melted away. Standing in front of me was Mr. Gehrig himself.
I broke the long silence that passed between us in the Pinstripe Forever, asking him what else I could do to win one more Series. He shook his head slowly as if to say “nothing.” I asked him if he meant “nothing” as in there was nothing more that I could do because I was already doing everything possible, or if he meant to tell me that nothing I do could change our fortunes as we make our uphill September push to the playoffs. Should I volunteer to bat seventh, to take more days at DH, to platoon against lefties? Should I call upon the bullpen guys to kidnap Stephen Drew and lock him in the luggage compartment underneath a Greyhound bus to Saugus?
He reached over and placed his finger across my lips to quiet me. He shook his head again.
And then he spoke a single word. The only word he needed to say. The only word with any power.
The water frozen above my head was set loose. The ice came raining down. Except when I opened my eyes to watch it gushing past my face and onto the floor, it was no longer ice.
It was rings. Hundreds of rings. Thousands. The rings of every Yankee champion, past, present, and future.
Friday, August 29: at Toronto Blue Jays
It hits me on the short flight to Toronto: Have I played my last game in Detroit? Somehow it didn’t even cross my mind Wednesday, when the Tigers presented me with my gifts, a pair of seats from Tiger Stadium and a painting of me playing in high school in Kalamazoo, in the old ballpark, and in Comerica. Truth be told, I don’t really have any emotional attachment to Comerica — it’s not like I visited there when I was a kid, it was just another stop on the Midwest road trips.
They brought out Joba and Phil Coke to be a part of the ceremony, and maybe I was distracted from those thoughts by Joba’s constant apologies for hitting me with a pitch a few weeks ago, and his offers to bean anyone else in the American League during the stretch. When I didn’t answer — I’d never intentionally tell another player to hurt anyone, because you retaliate with winning, not bush-league intimidation tactics — Joba started tossing out names. A lot of names. It was hard to tell if they were people he was just looking for an excuse to drill, or ones he thought might change my mind so he could make proper amends. I won’t repeat the list in my diary. There’s a code between a Captain and his onetime vigilante enforcer that you can’t compromise, even in a totally private space like this. But I have to admit to finding it strange how many of his own Tiger teammates were on offer. I’m not even sure how that would work, or if Joba realizes he doesn’t play for us anymore. Maybe he goes out there, closes his eyes, and imagines himself still wearing the pinstripes. I guess I’ll never know. He’s an enigma behind that new mountain-man beard and those dead eyes.
In any case, it’s entirely possible I will be back in Detroit this year. It all depends on whether the Tigers advance far enough to face us in the playoffs. You’re almost rooting for them to make it because we have some unfinished postseason business with them from that ugly and tragic ALCS in 2012. You would never in a million championship years put your personal goals ahead of the team, but you almost want to get some closure for the Ankle Game, which changed the course of both of our franchises’ recent histories. It’s not the reason to hope they pull out of their skid and get past Kansas City, but all things being equal on the way to the Series, it might be a nice grace note to run through the guys who stood by and watched you writhe in agony as your body betrayed you at the worst possible moment.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. There are 30 games left. And we have to take those one game at a time, 30 times in a row, if we’re going to even have the chance for any multilayered and emotionally satisfying victories in the playoffs.
Saturday, August 30: at Toronto Blue Jays
You don’t even know how to process a one-hitter. You send out a team of major league veterans with everything on the line against a rookie starter and a reliever for nine innings, and you only come away with one hit. Players always talk about how this game will humble you, but it will also confuse you. There are nights that it won’t make any sense whatsoever. If you went around the clubhouse before the game and asked every player which was more likely, that we would get only a single hit tonight, or that the roof of the Rogers Centre would detach and spin off into space during the seventh-inning stretch, you’d have 25 votes for the space-roof.
You never want to disrespect another player’s pitching performance, but the numbers just don’t add up sometimes. All you can do is go back out there tomorrow and do your best to not become a witness to yet another freak offensive occurrence. And hope the roof stays in place, because then you’d probably be looking at a suspended game, and we don’t have the time to fool around with that kind of thing this late in the season. We have a pennant to win.
Sunday, August 31: at Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto says good-bye with a helicopter tour of the Canadian Rockies and some ski lessons. It’s a beautiful country, I assume, but the way things ended in the game, I’m not sure I’ll be that anxious to come back soon, even if a luxury vacation is involved.
Because I come to the plate in the ninth with two outs and a chance to tie. We’re down by one. Ichiro’s on third, ready to extend the game. And I’m ready to win it.
But I strand him there. I don’t get the job done. I can admit that here, the way I’d admit it in front of a locker room full of reporters. You have to have that level of accountability at all times. You can’t dodge the question, even if it’s coming from inside your own head. You’ll do better next time, you tell yourself. Then you ask the tough follow-up: Isn’t each missed opportunity just more sand running through the hourglass of your final season?
You weren’t expecting that. Usually your postgame self-interview isn’t that confrontational, because you’ve developed a high level of goodwill with yourself over the course of your career. You understand that you’re all about winning, and one bad outcome doesn’t change that. It wasn’t for a lack of hustle or desire.
Still, you see your own tough but fair point about missed opportunities. It’s impossible not to. Maybe all of this writing in your diary can make you a little too insightful with your hourglass imagery. Could be you’re getting a little too much instruction from the journaling coach. It might be time to dial him back for the stretch run.
Monday, September 1: Off Day
“Nice cover, Jetes.”
Alex tosses my copy of The New Yorker on my chest as I lay in bed.
I’m on the cover, back turned to show my no. 2, tipping my cap to the Stadium crowd. It’s not necessarily a great likeness, but you can still appreciate the skill of the artist.
“I’m not jealous about it. I’m on the cover of Wardrobe Illustrated practically every month.”
“There’s no reason to be jealous. It’s just a magazine.”
“I’m almost out of heroic poses. Soon I’m going to have to make new ones up. Probably something where I’m shooting a bow and arrow, but the bow is a giant snake and the arrow is another, stiffer snake.”
“That sounds like a real challenge.”
“Anyway, I’m not even eligible for The New Yorker cover until next year. But when I’m back, I’ll be on it right away. More than once.”
“I have a subscription. I’m sure I’ll see them all.”
“I don’t want to be rude. But do you think it was a good idea to be posing for magazines when your entire season is on the line?”
“It’s a painting, Alex. I didn’t pose for it.”
“Still. Seems like a distraction you don’t need.”
“I had nothing to do with it.”
“The sands are running through your hourglass, Jetes.”
“Wait, what did you just say?”
“The sands. Through your hourglass. It’s not a complicated metaphor. It’s about time running out.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
“I have another question for you.”
“As long as it doesn’t involve hourglasses.”
“What if you don’t win in your final season?”
“What if you not-win?”
But he didn’t say “not-win.” He said the word you can’t ever say. The word that has never crossed my lips. The word I will never write down in my diary.
I don’t even answer him. I get out of bed, walk quietly over to the wardrobe, open the doors, and point inside. Time to go.
“It could happen, Jetes.”
I point again. He doesn’t budge.
“I’m just saying.”
I point a third time. He finally obeys and steps into the wardrobe.
“Not everybody wins every time, Jetes.”
I close the doors and crawl back into bed.
Soon I’m asleep. I dream I’m back in the clubhouse. CC and Tanaka are holding the bucket over my head.
But it’s not a Gatorade bucket. It’s an hourglass.
They dump it forward.
I choke on the sand as it streams over my head.
There are no rings in it.
I look up, and instead of Mr. Gehrig, Commissioner Selig is standing in front of me. He shakes his head.
Then he opens his mouth and speaks a single word.
I’m not writing it down here.
Tuesday, September 2: vs. Boston Red Sox
When I get to the Stadium before warmups, my locker is covered in small hourglasses.
Empty hourglasses. Each with the initials A.H.S. etched into it.
I call over a clubbie and hand him a hundred-dollar bill and give him instructions to fill all of them to the brim with sand, so that when you turn them upside down, not a grain moves.
And I tell him to leave the hourglasses there for the rest of the season.
After our last game, I’ll replace them with empty champagne bottles.
They’ll also be monogrammed: