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, September 18: vs. Toronto Blue Jays
This is it. My final homestand. My last eight games at Yankee Stadium, the greatest building on earth. In the greatest city on earth. Filled every night with 40,000 of the greatest fans on earth.
You’ve said all that before, but you really can’t repeat it enough times. It’s a place that’s given me everything, a place that’s made all my dreams come true. Sure, your own hard work and total dedication to winning also played their part in the incredible successes you’ve been a part of, but how much of it still happens if you were drafted by a different organization? By your best estimates, you get maybe one to three championships somewhere else, just by force of will. Not the five you’ve already won in New York, and the sixth that’s waiting for us in late October. You try not to spend too much time on hypotheticals like this when there are still so many games standing between you and the Series, but it’s hard not to think about how fortunate you were that the Yankees called your name that day and delivered you straight to baseball paradise. You could’ve wound up anywhere. Even Boston, where you might have accidentally broken The Curse for them before escaping to the Yankees in free agency, because even in this ugly alternate universe that’s the only team you’d ever choose to play for. It’s too terrible a thought to spend much time with, but sometimes you lose control of these mental exercises before they spin out to a bad place. Your journaling coach encourages you to snap your pencil in half and break the trance in situations like this. It works. He knows his craft.
But those sudden daymares aside, things worked out exactly as they should have. And so you find yourself here in New York, right where you’re supposed to be, for eight more days of baseball in the Stadium. For eight more games we need to win.
For eight more games we’re going to win.
Did I say eight games right there?
I mean seven. Because at that point I put down this diary, took the field, and did everything I could to help get this team a W.
I homer in the sixth. They come back on us in the eighth.
We walk off in the ninth.
On an error, but still. A championship ballclub puts itself in a position to capitalize on timely mistakes. It feels like my force of will alone makes their first baseman Buckner in our winning run. Maybe it was all the thinking about the dark Boston timeline earlier. We’ll never know.
Seven more home games. Then three on the road.
Then the playoffs.
Here we go.
Friday, September 19: vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Before the game, the CEO of New Era presents me with a bronze Yankee cap. I check it for any signs of Selig tampering, but it comes out clean. Just a gift.
So I put it on and walk around the clubhouse in it for a while, because a Captain has to know how to keep the room loose. The guys get a kick out of it, telling me it’s like I’m my own Monument Park plaque hanging out in the locker room. I tell them not to get ahead of themselves, I’d never take that honor for granted, whatever happens with that happens. It’s a privilege just to be considered for a memorial spot among the 40 or 50 best Yankees in history. It’s getting pretty crowded out there because of a century of excellence.
Then I put the hat on Ellsbury.
“Here, you be the hero tonight. You’re due.”
His eyes go wide. He gets what this moment between us means. He gets that I know he isn’t a Stephen Drew, who’s lurking in the corner, avoiding the prolonged eye contact I attempt before every game so he knows I’m watching him.
Unlike Drew, Ellsbury chose us. And like Boggs and Rocket before him, he’ll never be a True Yankee. Only the Babe could erase his Red Sox original sin, and even that miracle took blossoming into the greatest player of all time after putting on the pinstripes and destroying the hopes of our biggest rivals for almost 90 years.
So this is Ellsbury’s chance to prove that being a Yankee in any form, for any length of time, is enough for him.
He leads off the game with double.
Drives in two and scores three.
I let him wear the hat around the clubhouse after the game. Drew looks like he’s about to cry. It must be really frustrating for him to realize his mission is failing. You take some pleasure in thinking about the sad emoticon he’s about to text back to John Henry.
Six more in New York to go. I’m gonna miss this place.
Until we come right back for the playoffs.
Saturday, September 20: vs. Toronto Blue Jays
They can chant your name at every at-bat. They can stand and stomp their feet and wave a thousand RE2PECT signs with weird likenesses of you made of blue glitter. They can scream like they’ll scream when we finally get ourselves to the wild card next week.
But if your team doesn’t walk off that field with a win, it doesn’t mean anything. You’ve wasted their energy.
We walk off without a win. We waste their energy.
We’ll do better tomorrow. Because we have to.
Five left in New York.
Let’s get ’em all. One more game at a time.
Sunday, September 21: vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Tanaka hadn’t thrown a pitch for us since July. They’ll tell you they only ran him out there tonight to see if his arm would finally blow up so they could get him his Tommy John sooner rather than later.
But we’re still in the middle of a pennant race. He knows it. He’s a winner. He went all of last year undefeated in Japan, which is a pretty solid 14- or 15-win year in real baseball in the States. He wants badly to be back fighting with the team.
We meet behind the mound before first pitch.
He points to his right elbow.
I shake my head and point to the crowd.
“For them. It’s always for them.”
You hate to correct a selfless warrior who’s making a brave gesture of personal sacrifice, but you also can never forget the reason we do what we do.
The elbow holds up. Five and two-thirds innings.
One huge W.
Four more for New York.
Monday, September 22: vs. Baltimore Orioles
When I get home after the game, A-Rod’s clomping around the living room, sizing the things hanging on my walls with a tape measure.
“Wasn’t the redecorating project in Tampa enough for you?”
“I’ve lived here long enough that I feel like I should get a say in how the place looks. Your taste is Z Gallerie clearance sale. Pedestrian.”
“You don’t live here. You live inside the wardrobe.”
“Not forever. Not even much longer.”
“If you think you’re ever getting out of there, maybe you should be using this time to find a place to stay.”
“I’m heavy into real estate, Jetes. A mogul of sorts. I own plenty of places I could stay.”
“Then tell your decorator to get started. After the Series, you’re out.”
“No, this place will suit me just fine. It’s the Captain’s quarters. It comes with my job.”
“I promise you it doesn’t come with the job you won’t have.”
He frowns and walks over to me.
“Stay still, please.”
He extends the tape measure down to the floor. He pins it to my side with his hand, right around belt level, and takes a measurement.
“We were the same height before my magnificent transformation, weren’t we?”
“Sure. Give or take.”
He retracts the tape measure with a loud snap.
“Then your legs should do just fine.”
“Fine for what?”
“The unbecoming, Jetes. I’m going to need human legs again to be field-legal.”
“And you think you’re going to take my legs.”
“They seem like a reasonable Captaining gift, don’t they?”
“Reasonable is not the word I would use, no.”
“Don’t worry, they’re just spares in case there’s a problem with the dehaunchening. I probably won’t even need them.”
“You are not getting my legs under any circumstances. Let’s be clear on that.”
“You’re retiring. You won’t need them. You don’t even really need them now, your season is over.”
“We won tonight. We’re still in it.”
“Your resolve would be inspiring if it weren’t delaying my backup legs plan.”
“No legs. Period.”
“Very greedy, Jetes. In the drobe, everyone shares.”
“In my home, I keep my legs.”
“The sooner you accept you’ve already failed, the happier you’ll be.”
“We haven’t failed.”
“You can just enjoy your last games without all the pressure. You can finally relax and truly soak in your final moments.”
“You know what? I hadn’t thought of it like that. Maybe you’re right.”
“I knew you’d see it my way once I explained it properly, Jetes.”
“Let me have the rest of the night alone to think about it.”
“Even the legs?”
“All of it.”
I walk him back to the wardrobe, open the door, and wave him inside. He steps in without a fuss.
“Please be careful at the game tomorrow. No sliding, I need the legs intact.”
“I’m going to be the greatest Captain ever, Jetes. You’ll see.”
I close the doors. They latch behind him.
And then I tear off the handle.
“That’s very hurtful, Jetes.”
I open the bedroom window and throw the handle out of it.
“We’re still in it.”
It comes out more of a whisper than I expect. I say it again so he’ll hear me.
“We’re still in it.”
And I believe it. More than I’ve ever believed anything.
Tuesday, September 23: vs. Baltimore Orioles
I try to beg out of it through Cashman’s office, telling him that it’s a distraction at an important moment in our playoff push, but there’s a ceremony for me before the game.
Hosted by Mr. Selig.
He presents me with the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award at a press conference. It’s only been given to 15 players. He explains this during his speech, but that’s the only part I hear. I’m too preoccupied watching his hands. Last time he got close to me, it didn’t go well. I still have a phantom scar on my rib cage that burns every time I think about him.
He hands me the statuette and catches me trying to check the bottom for one of his messages. He leans over, covering his microphone with his hand, and speaks softly into my ear. It probably reads as a nice personal moment to the cameras.
It is not a nice personal moment.
“Apologies that I did not have this trinket properly engraved, Captain. Instead, let me deliver the sentiment to you directly. You have failed, and I have triumphed, just as I promised. My legacy is supreme. Yours is tainted. As a boy, the great DiMaggio was my hero. You are no DiMaggio. Let every time you gaze upon this totem, made from the pulverized bones of the Yankee Clipper, remind you of your sad final days cowering in my shadow. Enjoy your retirement. You won’t realize it until later, but it begins right now.”
He withdraws for a moment for dramatic effect and smiles to the press gallery to show them what a pleasant chat we’re having. Then he leans in one last time.
“Yours, Allen H. Selig. Commissioner of the Base-Ball.”
Three hours later, I come to the plate in the bottom of the ninth.
We’re down 5-4.
Gardy’s on first.
I strike out swinging.
When I get back to my locker, the commissioner’s award is waiting there on the top shelf. Next to it is a framed picture of Joe DiMaggio frowning, as if I’d already forgotten what the statuette means.
There are two more games in New York.
We’re not done yet.
Wednesday, September 24: vs. Baltimore Orioles
Our playoff hopes end at exactly 4:37 p.m. I know this because I look up at the Jumbotron when I hear the final strike hit the catcher’s mitt, getting Gardy looking. He lays down his bat and his helmet beside home plate.
Everyone lingers in the dugout for a moment, waiting for some kind of signal from their Captain. I wave them toward the tunnel. I want a minute alone. They file out and leave me there.
But I’m not alone. Yogi’s on the bench next to me, in full uniform.
“I know what you’re gonna say. Don’t, OK?”
He shrugs. Instead of saying the two words I don’t ever want to hear, he takes a small bag out of his pocket. It’s full of World Series rings. He pops one in his mouth like it’s a diamond-encrusted Milk Dud. He offers the bag to me. I pass.
We sit in silence for a long time, watching the grounds crew drag the infield.
I’ll be back out there tomorrow.
My last home game ever. With nothing to play for.
I hear there’s rain in the forecast.