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.
Sunday, July 1: vs. Chicago White Sox
Hot day at the Stadium, man. Hot day. Speaking of hot, Robbie Cano’s going nuts right now. “He makes it look so easy,” everyone likes to say about him. It’s true, but “making it look easy” is a double-edged bat. (Yeah, bats are round and don’t have edges, but sometimes to make a boring old saying baseball-specific you have to put aside geometry and logic for a minute to get to an essential truth like that, and we don’t use swords.) When you make baseball seem “too easy,” you wind up “looking lazy” when things are not going well. As captain, I should probably work on that with him, help him put a little strain into his game, because you hate to see a guy as good as Cano get criticized for the occasional yawn in the batter’s box. Sometimes the brain just needs oxygen. You can say, “He’s yawning, he’s really bored,” or you can say, “He’s involuntarily trying to stop his brain from suffocating.” I’ll go with the latter, because it’s a medical fact, and you’d change your tune pretty quick if a guy were having fatal seizures at home plate.
Oh yeah, it’s All-Star Selection Sunday, so we found out the rosters after the game. Here are the starters selected by the fans:
C: Mike Napoli
Some people are going to accuse Texas fans of stuffing the ballot box here. Napoli’s a solid choice. Joe Mauer’s having a nice bounce-back season, but everyone’s a little tired of him, right? So maybe you give the nod to Napoli for his superior ability to not overexpose himself on a hundred shampoo commercials.
1B: Prince Fielder
Probably not the choice you make if you’re going by performance, but it’s hard to second-guess the star power of a guy who just got a $200 million contract. How do you argue with all those zeroes? You’d love for this slot to be Tex, but you’d also love it if Tex were playing at an all-star level at this point in the season and maybe didn’t throw away the first two months because he didn’t want to sit out a couple of games to properly Robitussin away that sore throat.
2B: Robbie Cano
It’s great when the fans get it right. It’s even better when the fans get it right AND it’s not Dustin Pedroia. Because if he’s on the team you’ve got a ticket to a two-day laser show, and after like an hour, trust me, you’re ready to sneak out of the laser show and into a show that has anything but lasers.
SS: Derek Jeter
Honored and humbled to go to my 13th All-Star Game. You just go out there and play hard every day and the fan voting takes care of itself. Yeah, you hope they’re going to punch the little hole next to your name, and in such a way that it can’t be counted toward Elvis Andrus or Alcides Escobar or whoever, but it’s not like you can control it. You put in the effort and at the end of the day, maybe you’ve got more little punched-out holes than the next guy, even if he’s technically having a better statistical year.
3B: Adrian Beltre
Great choice to get out of Boston. You want to make sure a guy gets positive reinforcement for an important decision like that, and maybe he sets an example for other players who might think they’re trapped there for their entire careers. You’re not. You’re free to go when your contract’s up. The Players Association has fought hard for the ability to leave that city. Whatever weird hold Theo Epstein had on you is broken — he’s in Chicago now, he can’t hurt you from the National League.
OF: Josh Hamilton
You worry about a guy like Josh Hamilton. All the talent in the world. But so many really, really awful tattoos. I know he got most, if not all, of them during a pretty rough part of his life and he tries to keep them covered up, but to me there aren’t enough drugs in the world to have a dragon shitting out flaming baseballs inked on you for the rest of your life. He won’t let me get a good look at it, so I can’t speak with authority about what that fire-pooping thing is actually supposed to be. But giant lizard wings and scorched baseballs seem to be involved.
OF: Curtis Granderson
Another great selection by the fans. We have this fun game we play with him in the dugout after he hits a home run. It’s called, “Nice One, Home Run Hitter.” Someone will say, “Nice one, home run hitter!” And Grandy will say, “I’m not a home run hitter!,” all embarrassed, and then immediately sit down at Kevin Long’s laptop to watch videos of himself hitting opposite-field singles. Love that guy.
OF: Jose Bautista
Everyone likes to ask, “Is Jose Bautista for real?” How many more homers does a guy have to crush before people stop with that question? I bet if the Blue Jays have a version of “Nice One, Home Run Hitter,” Jose just shouts at them, “No one believed in me!” He’s right, they didn’t. It’s good to keep yourself motivated with painful memories of everyone else’s previous lack of faith in your abilities. It’s a very powerful tool in your emotional toolbox, even if it’s a tool that makes you sob at your locker from time to time. Tears are like batting practice for the soul.
DH: David Ortiz
He’s having a nice season. A great hitter, and he’s giving Red Sox fans some wonderful memories in his last year with the team. Look, I’m not trying to tamper with the free agent process, I’m just pointing out that Carl Crawford has a $142 million contract and that most teams have budgets, especially for old guys who can’t play the field. Big Papi will be happier than you think spending his last two years in Baltimore or Anaheim, away from the unappreciative owners who saddled him with that humiliating $14.5 million salary. A man can only be insulted by his team for so long in the low-eight-figure range.
So there are the starters who will help determine home-field advantage for the Series. Which, let’s be frank, is just about the worst idea Bud Selig ever had. You kind of miss the old way, where one of his secretaries would walk into his office while he was napping, shout “American or National?” at him, and whichever one he said as he fell out of his chair won home-field. It added a fun element of mystery to it that’s ruined by pinning the outcome to a game where you have to choose players from San Diego and Houston. On the other hand, it’s nice for the Padres and Astros guys to play a meaningful game in July, so you could make that argument if you felt like it.
Monday, July 2 through Wednesday, July 4: at Tampa Bay
You feel bad for a team like the Rays. They’ve had some success here on a small payroll, and still they’re forced to play in a stadium that’s really only suited to second-tier monster truck rallies. You wonder why Evan Longoria’s hurt all the time — either it’s the turf or it’s some kind of psychosomatic Operation Shutdown by his body to protest the shoddy working conditions. After a while the players probably start to see through all of Joe Maddon’s postgame wine-tasting nights in the clubhouse and realize he’s just trying to distract them from the fact they’re playing in the baseball equivalent of a haunted landfill.
Right now you’re probably thinking all that negativity about the Trop has something to do with the fact we could only get one out of three games from them this series. And that I’m cramming three days of diaries into one entry for the same reason. If we’re being totally honest, that may have played a factor. You want to win every single game, every single day. It drives you that extra bit of crazy when not only did you fall short of that goal, you had to do it in a place where the ball is constantly ping-ponging off some catwalk ceiling-garbage hanging down into the field of play. Why not just go all the way and leave a tiger pit in center? “Sorry about the tiger pit, this is a multi-use facility, and they host a lot of circuses in the outfield area. But if the ball goes in one, let’s call it a double while your teammate is being mauled to death.” This is the big leagues; deadly tiger pits are not a part of the game. You didn’t see Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio being eaten alive because of the ground rules.
Thursday, July 5: off day
You never want to blame your assistant for something you should have remembered on your own, but she totally forgot Minka’s birthday this year. June 24! Like two days before mine. Pretty bad. I consider it a point of pride that on all my ex-girlfriends’ birthdays, I not only send them an extra-large basket of signed memorabilia, but call to let them know I hope they have a very special day. If you let one feel neglected, that’s when they start talking to the tabloids, and the next thing you know there’s an item in “Page Six” about how your laundry room has 10 separate hampers for individual colors, or how you’ll throw out an entire batch of freshly baked snickerdoodles if the dough from one bleeds onto another and creates one of those ugly conjoined cookies, or that you give the cleaning lady an extra grand a week if you can’t find any smudges on the Web Gems Screening Room espresso machine. You don’t want damaging stuff like this getting out, it’s hell on the brand.
Friday, July 6: at Boston
Just stepping onto to the field at Fenway is usually motivation enough to go out there and compete in the greatest rivalry in professional sports, but then you get a look at the lineup card: Nava, Kalish, Ross, Saltalamacchia, Gomez, Aviles, Punto. At best you’ve heard of two of these guys, and even then you’re probably thinking of someone’s uncle who played in the late ’70s. No Pedroia, no Ellsbury, no Crawford this time, and now no Youk, Varitek, and Wakefield forever. It’s like you can’t take any real joy in almost knocking Beckett out in the first inning and then barely holding on to win a game that was pretty much an embarrassment all the way around. There was so little juice in The Rivalry tonight that Tex had to get fired up about a big hit off Vicente Padilla. By the way, Padilla loosens up in the clubhouse by whipping cans of Diet Dr Pepper at the batboy’s head. Please no one teach this to Soriano, we like our batboys over here, they’re good kids.
Tomorrow we play two, hopefully at a major-league, less-embarrassing-shitshow-y level.
Saturday, July 7th: at Boston (doubleheader)
If a tie is “kissing your sister,” splitting a doubleheader is, “getting to third base with your cousin before you realize you’re related.” You’re just not taking a lot of joy from the experience unless you’re kind of a deviant. I said this to Boonie after the second game and he looked at me like I’m insane, then showed me a website involving “cousins,” an inflatable kiddie pool full of Nutella, and a pair of oversized, studded spatulas. Never go to that website, don’t even try to Google it, trust me, it’s probably not even legal to use an imported spread in such an off-label way, whether or not you’re family. The lesson here: If we had swept both games, I wouldn’t have had to see a lot of chocolate-drenched things I can never unsee.
Sunday, July 8: at Boston
Let’s get it out of the way.
I dropped a routine infield pop-up in the first inning. “When was the last time Derek Jeter dropped a routine infield pop-up?,” you’re probably asking. “Even people who regularly criticize Derek Jeter’s defense and gripe about his multiple Gold Gloves agree that he’s excellent on pop-ups of all kinds.” The answer is: Never. It’s never happened, at any level. Not in T-ball, Little League, high school, the minors, or 17-plus years in Major League Baseball. I even had Elias check on it, just to be sure, and they told me their computer spit out an error message that said, “Don’t be fucking crazy right now.” That being said, it happened. We all saw it. I own it. And I promise you this: before every game from now until I retire at some undisclosed point in the future, I’m going to watch video of that dropped pop-up and learn what I can so that it never, ever happens a second time. That’s all you can do in situations like this: learn from your mistakes, no matter how astronomically unlikely they are to recur, and even if they were probably caused by some pretty severe muscle spasms you would never disclose because you don’t believe in excuses of any kind. If you can’t find a lesson in a freak accident, you aren’t trying hard enough to become a better ballplayer and a better person.
Monday, July 9: at Kansas City for the Home Run Derby
They booed Robbie Cano. For not picking Brett Butler to be in the Home Run Derby. I really don’t understand this one. First, did Brett Butler ever play for the Royals? Why do they love him so much here? Second, the guy had 54 career homers in 17 seasons. You just can’t put a slap-hitter like that on your team, it’s madness, this isn’t the Taking the Extra Base Derby. Third, Brett Butler retired in 1997. I know that the Derby is only an exhibition, but it makes no sense whatsoever to demand that a player who hasn’t been in the bigs in 15 years participate in an official All-Star event. You can’t go after Robbie for that, it’s not a crime to try and win a Derby with a team of power-hitters who are all active major-leaguers. You hate to say it, but this would never happen in St. Louis. Those fans at least know who’s currently on their team.
Tuesday, July 10: at Kansas City for the All-Star Game
Met Brett Butler doing some press before the game. Turns out he’s actually a player for the Royals. And he likes to go by “Billy” for some reason. So I suppose the booing makes a little more sense than it did yesterday. I apologize to anyone from Kansas City who might be reading my personal diary — though, on some level, they probably deserve the grief for nearly killing Mo with their substandard warning track conditions. You tell me which is the bigger sin: mixing up a couple of guys with similar names, or almost ending the career of the greatest closer in baseball history? It seems pretty clear to me that KC has a lot more to apologize for.
Now that’s out of the way, do I really even want to relive this game? We got embarrassed, which is bad enough on its own, but it’s even more upsetting when you realize it cost the American League home field advantage in the Series. (I’d never be so presumptuous to say “cost the Yankees home field advantage,” even if that’s what you think I meant. You can’t assume you’re going to be playing in late October, even if a failure to do so completely invalidates your entire season.)
Some observations, though, as long as I’m journalling instead of sleeping:
- My squibber in the first inning looks like a line drive in the box score. (Though if you look at all the advanced computer ball-tracking data they have now, it’s accurately recorded as a squibber again. My job is to get on base, not make a nice-looking streak on a 3D plot in some blogger’s iPad app.)
- Someone needs to tell Prince Fielder that if I’m going to go through the trouble of doing one of my patented jump-throws from the hole, the polite thing to do is scoop it up cleanly on the short hop. Maybe Tex can text Prince and let him know how that’s supposed to work for everybody.
- Bryce Harper did ultimately make the team because of some injuries. And then he wore gold cleats. A) I worry this is going to be a case of “too much, too fast” for a 19-year-old kid, and B) not that I expect everyone to conduct themselves with humility in these situations, but I wore Phil Rizzuto’s cleats to my first All-Star Game. Did I complain that they were six sizes too small? No, I was honored to literally step into the shoes of a legend I revered, even if I lost the pinky toe on my left foot that night after a hard slide into third. You get the feeling Harper’s cleats were a custom job. They probably have those individual toe-pockets on the inside and everything.
- On the other hand, that Mike Trout seems like a real nice kid. Regular cleats. He addressed me as “Mr. Jeter.” “Mr. Jeter is my father,” I told him. “You should just call me Captain.” Then I had him get me a Gatorade. He brought me four different flavors. He’s playing the game the right way.
- Did no one tell Tony La Russa he retired? No idea why he’s here, I think he just wandered into the dugout and everyone was too polite to send him home.
- People like to say that Ron Washington’s not the best in-game tactician, but I thought he did a pretty solid job not accidentally substituting a catcher into center field.
- Melky Cabrera was like a little brother to us when he was with the Yankees, so it makes us really proud to play against him here. Sometimes you have to push the fat, underachieving chick out of the nest, and then watch him get kicked out of two other nests, before he hires a dietician and personal trainer and learns to take flying seriously.
- When I arrived, I found that my locker was completely filled with jars of Nutella. A clubbie handed me a note. “Good luck tonight! Miss you. [three cartoon hearts] Cousin Boonie.”