Derek Jeter’s Diary: Honus Wagner’s Record and the Churning Hooves of Majesty
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 7: vs. Detroit Tigers
There’s something magical about the Stadium. I know I’m not the first one to say that, as it’s a generally accepted fact that this place contains inexplicable forces that bend reality in a way that helps us win at home. The longer I play here, the more I appreciate it, and it’s going to be a hard transition to spend a lot more time in environments that aren’t supercharged to enable your success. You can overcome a lot of that with a positive attitude, a tireless work ethic, and a personal commitment to dominating in everything you do, but you can’t replace that crackle you feel in your lungs every time you breathe in the Stadium’s special air. You wish you could bottle it, but you can’t. Well, technically you could bring an empty bottle into the dugout and cap it off there, but it’s not going to do anything for you other than maybe give you a nice keepsake. It’s not like you can dispense it when you need it, like you can with my signature cologne, Driven, which has been proven in clinical trials to boost your pinstripe levels for up to five hours at a time. The Stadium’s air loses its qualities once you cross the interlocking NY seal in the Atrium. You can’t even smuggle it out in your lungs. I’ve tried.
On a night like tonight, you really feel the home-field advantage. On paper, maybe you worry a little bit that a rookie starter like Shane Greene might be overwhelmed by the moment, pitching against a first-place club. But then you actually get out there and notice how he’s taking deeper-than-normal breaths between pitches, and you realize he’s going to be OK. The Stadium’s going to help him out, the way it always has, with Whitey and Catfish and Gator and Coney and Andy and Mo, whether they were pitching in the old building or the new. We’re all breathing those same championship particles.
So you’re not at all surprised when the kid goes out there and throws eight shutout innings and helps finish taking three of four games from the Tigers. We started out slowly here at home in the first half, and now the Stadium is paying us back after the All-Star break. It knows we’re approaching the stretch run. It knows what we need from it to get back to the playoffs, what we need to bring it another banner to fly. We need lungs full of its magic. We’ll all be breathing deeply on our journey to October.
Friday, August 8: vs. Cleveland Indians
It’s been a really long time since this team has put up 10 runs in a game. Our offensive struggles aren’t a secret. You can’t hide all those 2s and 3s and 4s in our box scores. Those people from Elias or whoever they are keep pretty accurate records of that stuff. You can’t go around pretending you’re scoring in the double digits constantly, someone could easily check that and know it’s not the case.
Still, it feels good to have the offense pull its weight tonight. There’s been a lot of pressure on the pitching staff because of the general lack of scoring, and it’s nice to let them off the hook a little. You just hope we didn’t use up all our runs for the week in one game. You almost wish you could bank them and spend them as needed, because you’re not totally comfortable with what Stephen Drew’s got planned for his at-bats going forward. He could have a pretty nasty slump he’s ready to drop the minute he comes up with guys on base. You don’t know. It’s sensible to save runs for a rainy day.
Saturday, August 9: vs. Cleveland Indians
It’s impossible to enjoy any kind of personal milestone when the team isn’t coming away with a W, which is the only important statistic. Even if everyone thinks it’s a huge achievement, like passing Honus Wagner on the all-time hits list. One the one hand, you’re humbled to think that no shortstop in the long history of the game has more hits than you, and you’re flattered to hear your name mentioned with a name like his. And it’s crazy to think that only five players at any position have hit more. But your goals were always measured in championships, not the other numbers on the back of your baseball card.
So there’s a part inside you that will feel pride when you eventually see the ball from tonight marked 3,431 in your Hall of Hits, because you know it’s your Honus Wagner ball. But there’s also a bigger part inside you that knows the result of the game it came from and will never forget it, and will feel a twinge of shame and disappointment. It’s a tainted trophy. There’s nothing you can do about it other than walk back over to the Circle of Rings and stand in the middle for a while. Those are the memories that matter. Those are the ones that are pure.
Sunday, August 10: vs. Cleveland Indians
You hear about the Royals fan from Korea finally coming to Kansas City to fulfill his dream of seeing his team in person and you can’t help but feel happy for the guy. It’s a special story. They fly him out and give him the red carpet treatment, and all the other fans rally around him to make his trip an unforgettable experience. SportsCenter even shows up to cover it because it’s incredible to consider someone so far away could care so much about a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 29 years.
All of it makes you appreciate how lucky you’ve been to play for a franchise that has so many millions of international fans that nobody would even notice when one showed up to watch you. You’re truly blessed to look up in the stands and see that kind of thing at literally every game. But you’ve got to tip your hat to the Royals organization for finding their needle in the haystack and really hanging on to it. It can’t have been easy, and they handled it with class.
Monday, August 11: at Baltimore Orioles
I don’t know how it exactly came up, but at the press conference before the game to talk about my second-to-last trip to Baltimore in the regular season, someone asks Buck Showalter about The Flip.
And Buck says I was late on the play. Two steps late.
I have the utmost respect for Mr. Showalter. He’s the first manager I ever played for in the big leagues, even if it was only for a handful of games after my September call-up. I’ll always be grateful to him for writing my name down on a Yankees lineup card for the first time. I still have that lineup card. He has very meticulous handwriting.
But I have to respectfully disagree with his opinion on this. I was not late on the play. Not one step or two steps. Not even a half-step. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. That was a play we practiced. And it’s a play I’ve relived hundreds if not thousands of times in the Highlight Dome, running and flipping in perfect pace with my hologram image from that game to make sure I could repeat it if the scenario ever again presented itself. That’s what highlights are for: to develop your muscles’ winning-memory.
You hate to contradict a manager whose departure helped prepare the way for a dynasty, but you also feel the need to correct the record when a mistake is made. If you don’t, things tend to spiral out of control in the media, and the next thing you know, someone’s asking your Triple-A hitting coach if he thinks you really needed to go face-first into the stands on The Dive. For the record: I did. The Highlight Dome sessions also confirm that. The scabs from my cheek have already been shipped to Cooperstown, though I probably authorized that only because I was still woozy from the impact and misunderstood the request.
You just hope you can put all this behind you and get back to a place where people are not trying to rewrite history for the sound bites. There are games to win, and no one ever won a game by making stuff up from behind the mic at a press conference. Not even Buck Showalter.
Tuesday, August 12: at Baltimore Orioles (rainout)
We’re postponed early because of rain in the forecast. I’m feeling antsy sitting around the hotel, so I find a manager and make a special request to rent out the ballroom for an hour.
And move a wardrobe into it.
Once they set it up, I lock the ballroom. Then knock on the wardrobe.
Its doors fly open immediately, and Alex steps out.
He seems confused.
“Where are we, Jetes? Don’t you have a game?”
“Hilton Baltimore. Rainout.”
“Am I free to run?”
“Knock yourself out.”
He takes a few tentative steps, looking back to me for approval. I nod. He trots around the perimeter of the room, doing one lap, slowly picking up speed.
Soon he’s galloping, weaving between the bare dinner tables.
“Am I graceful, Jetes?”
“Am I currently the most graceful being in the entire Hilton family of hotels?”
“There was a pretty good bellhop earlier, actually.”
He stops and rears up on his hind legs. His front legs kick in front of him, like he’s riding a giant centaur bicycle.
“I call this move ‘The Churning Hooves of Majesty.’”
“It’s a good one.”
He lands back on all fours. He stares at me for a long time. Skeptically.
“What’s this about, Jetes?”
“It’s not about anything. I thought it would be nice for you.”
“There must be a reason.”
“I’m just glad you’re enjoying it. One more lap?”
He circles the room at full gallop and returns to me at the wardrobe.
I open the doors. He steps inside.
Our eyes lock for what feels like an eternity. There’s a flicker of some emotion behind them I can’t quite place. Something complicated.
And then a single tear breaks free and rolls down his cheek.
“I don’t deserve a Captain like you.”
He grabs the wardrobe doors and slams them shut.
The sound echoes around the empty ballroom.
When it fades, it’s so quiet I can almost hear my own heartbeat.
Wednesday, August 13: at Baltimore Orioles
Michael Pineda’s finally back from the DL after hurting himself during his foreign substance suspension back in April.
We take no chances this time. There’s a full body inspection before he’s allowed to leave the clubhouse. He passes. Even on the neck.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Pineda runs up into the dugout tunnel and coughs up a giant black wad of wet pine tar onto the concrete.
He shrugs and signals toward the inside of his cheek.
“Check in there next time.”
Four innings later, our come-from-behind rally falls a little short.
I told everybody we should have saved some runs for a night like this.