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.
Friday, July 25: vs. Toronto Blue Jays
You have to be confident.
If there’s one thing a Captain can impart to his team, it’s confidence. The other players take their cues from you, so it’s your responsibility to project confidence at all times. Not swagger, because that’s confidence turned up one notch too far, and the Yankees are not an organization that does swagger. The Yankees do aura and mystique. The sense that things are going to work out because over the span of franchise history they almost always have, even if those winning outcomes sometimes require the intervention of supernatural forces. Things certainly have worked out for me.
Which makes it easier to step out onto that field with confidence every day.
When you do that, good results tend to follow. Like running off a 17-game winning streak at Yankee Stadium against Toronto. It’s hard to explain a run like that other than the triumph of confidence over insecurity. That the other team comes in here, sees an opponent on the diamond that fully expects a win, and is shaken by their certainty. But you can’t fake that. You have to really believe it. You have to have it reinforced by a leader who’s been to the top of Championship Mountain again and again and can tell you what it’s like up there. He can tell you what the flowers smell like. He can tell you how crisp the air feels. He can tell you if the food’s any good. For the record, everything smells, feels, and tastes like winning. Just like it should in paradise. You should try to visit it. But you have to go through this team and its confidence to get there.
Sometimes you wonder if you should put all this in a book one day, especially since you now run a soon-to-be incredibly successful publishing company. But maybe recording it for posterity in your diary is enough. There’s something powerful about writing down the wisdom you’ve accumulated for an audience of yourself.
Saturday, July 26: vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Here’s the thing about winning streaks: Eventually they end. All of them. No team goes 162-0, even if that’s the expectation you enter every season with. All you can do is hope that when your streak is finally broken, it’s in early April after you’ve already swept your way through the World Series in October. That takes the sting out of it somewhat. Not totally, but some. The end of every streak is still painful in its own way. Even those that end in late July because you were forced to start a pitcher who was traded for a brown lunch bag full of cash. A small lunch bag. You weren’t even sure that was a legal way to conduct a baseball transaction, but you learn new things about how front offices operate every day. You wonder whether someone will actually let Chris Capuano keep that bag. If they do, I’d be happy to sign it for him as a keepsake of his short time with us.
Sunday, July 27: vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Troy Tulowitzki is in town to get his hip examined, and he drops by the Stadium today to catch the game, saying he’s taking an opportunity to see me play one more time before my retirement. You’re always flattered by gestures like that. He’s a great young shortstop who plays the game the right way when he’s not hurt, which seems to be a lot of the time, and he wears my number. But immediately the media takes the visit to mean that he’s going to ask for a trade to the Yankees.
First of all, a player can’t really demand a trade anywhere. It’s not up to him. It’s up to whether or not his owner and his general manager would care enough about his happiness to make all his childhood dreams come true by sending him to New York. Second of all, you’d never risk tampering charges by speculating about possible moves in your diary, but you’d love to have him on the team for the stretch run. We just picked up Chase Headley to play third, but Tulo would fit in perfectly next to me at second base. Brian Roberts is a great guy and a true professional who would happily volunteer to go to Colorado to get his teammates such a huge upgrade. The Rockies would be crazy not to want a selfless veteran presence like that to help change their culture. It makes so much sense, you’re shocked it hasn’t happened already. Cashman must be working on it as we speak. Not that I have any inappropriate inside knowledge. I’ll find out about it at the same time as everybody else, when Brian Roberts nods at me in the clubhouse, acknowledging his sacrifice for the greater good of the Yankees.
Monday, July 28: at Texas Rangers
On the flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, I finally get a moment to have a nice phone conversation with Mr. Torre, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame today. We won four World Series together, and I couldn’t be happier for him. He was the manager who made me a starter, and I’ll be eternally grateful to him for that, for always believing in me, and for never listening to the people who incorrectly criticized my defense using unreliable statistics or their own untrained eyes. He knew what he saw out there, and he even made sure I stayed at shortstop when A-Rod came over from Texas. You couldn’t ask for a better manager. It’s been an impossible void for Joe Girardi to fill, as hard as he tries. You can’t replace a legend like Mr. Torre — you can only do your best to remember to look up from your binder once in a while and peek out from behind his shadow.
Mr. Torre tells me that everybody in Cooperstown was talking about how in five years I might be the first person to go into the Hall with 100 percent of the vote. He was probably just being polite, but that would be an incredible honor. You can’t even think about it, though, because it’s completely out of your hands and a lot of the writers do unpredictable things and use their votes to “send messages.” So the only 100 percent you can worry about is your own effort level. If you continue to go out there day after day giving everything you have, even after 19 seasons of sustained excellence, maybe the message the Hall sends is “Thank you for being the best baseball player you could possibly be. Welcome inside, Captain.”
Maybe it’ll even be Mr. Torre delivering the message. That would be yet another dream come true.
Tuesday, July 29: at Texas Rangers
I get back to the hotel totally spent from an exhausting win and decide to hit the sauna to relax a little. It’s late, so I expect it to be empty. But when I go to open the door, I see a pair of blue eyes staring back at me through a wiped-off patch in the tiny, fogged-up window.
The door opens and A-Rod waves me inside.
“It’s a little crowded in here.”
“A schvitz should be cozy. I’ve always said that.”
“Cramming a regular-size person and a centaur in here is not very relaxing.”
“I hate it when you use that word. I am me, not a label.”
“I meant no offense.”
“A label undercuts the unique magnificence of my becoming.”
“I’m more me every day, in fact.”
“You are you, got it.”
“The average person is only 10 percent themselves. I’m up to anywhere between 15 and 18 percent now, Jetes.”
“I’m unlocking the secrets of myself. It’s an exciting time.”
“And I’m excited for you.”
“In my heightened state I can detect your slight dismissiveness of my progress.”
“I’m not dismissive.”
“That quiver in the corner of your left eye is a tell. I can also detect that you seem worried about something.”
“I’m not worried about anything but winning the game tomorrow.”
“Are you worried about Brett Gardner, Jetes?”
“Why would I be worried about Gardy?”
“All the home runs.”
“Three in two days. Nice hot streak for him.”
“The ball flies out in Texas. You know that better than anyone.”
“He’s a tiny person, Jetes. Suspicious.”
“You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
“If you got to the ballpark and saw a chipmunk swinging a log, would you be suspicious then?”
“I see that every day inside the wardrobe and think nothing of it. But it’s not normal in the outside-drobe.”
“I think I’ve had enough steam.”
“In my heightened state of awareness I feel it’s my responsibility to say something to you about it.”
“Noted. I’m leaving now.”
“I’d hate for him to be the victim of a witch hunt. Witches get drowned, Jetes.”
“Fine, I’ll keep an eye on him.”
“That’s all I can ask.”
I open the sauna door and exit. I look back and see the two blue eyes glowing through the steam.
“Chipmunk with a log, Jetes.”
Wednesday, July 30: at Texas Rangers
The Rangers have Michael Young and Pudge present me with a pair of cowboy boots and a check for my foundation. I’m not exactly a cowboy boots guy, but they don’t ask for your footwear preferences when they pick out your retirement gifts.
They also don’t tell you they’re going to send a former president to greet you. They play a video of President Bush on the scoreboard, talking about how I told him he’d get booed if he bounced the first pitch he threw out in Game 3 of the 2001 Series. It was good advice; the fans in New York demand perfection in everything that happens on the field, even ceremonial pitches from leaders trying to put a terrified country at ease. You bounce one and they’ll never trust you to lead them out of the darkness.
The video ends and President Bush appears from the Texas dugout, jogging onto the field to hand me a framed photograph of our conversation from that night 13 years ago, out by the Yankee Stadium batting cage. He hands me the photo and leans in to whisper in my ear.
“Enjoy this while it lasts.”
“I will. But I’m not quite done yet, Mr. President.”
“A good friend of mine begs to differ, Hopalong Two-sidy.”
He turns the photo over to show me the inscription on the back.
Dear Captain —
You failed in Two Thousand and One.
So shall it be in Two Thousand and Fourteen.
A Nation turns its Lonely Eyes to 2
And sees only Weakness and Cowardice.
Allan H. Selig
Commissioner of the Base-Ball
President Bush watches with a smile as I read the words.
The ceremony ends and the game begins.
Gardner leads off with a homer, his fourth in three games.
As he tracks the ball as it flies toward the seats, all I can see is a chipmunk flipping a log onto the grass.
And the president watching me from the seats behind the dugout.
I go 0 for 4.