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, June 19: vs. Toronto Blue Jays
You have to hand it to this Blue Jays team. No one gave them a chance before the season. Everyone picked them to finish at or near the bottom of the East, the way they have pretty much every year since the last time they made the playoffs. I could look up the year and be precise about it, but for the purposes of this entry, the vague sense that it’s been a really long time will suffice. They haven’t made it since my career started, so it’s gotta be close to 20 years. Wow. It’s crazy to even write that. If the Yankees ever went two decades between playoff appearances, I’m pretty sure the Steinbrenners would do the correct and noble thing and shut down the franchise to prevent the further tarnishing of our unrivaled tradition. As it is, every season that doesn’t end in a World Series results in a series of high-level meetings where our total failure to bring a championship to the fans of New York is thoroughly examined, and inevitably someone will suggest just shutting down the whole thing in a fit of grief. But eventually cooler heads prevail, we determine that we’ll probably win another Series the very next year, we reload with a fresh round of free agents, and we get ready for another campaign. There’s no progress without soul-searching. That’s something I’ve learned both from that crucial postmortem process and from writing in this diary. You grow from the honest confrontation of that pain. I can’t remember if it was Cashman or my journaling coach who first told me that.
I’m not sure how Toronto handles things organizationally. But to their credit, they don’t disband the team and leave Canada without Major League Baseball. They continue to go out there, year after year, and battle it out for third or fourth or fifth. There’s a nobility in that. And it allows them to finally have a season like this one, where we’re approaching the All-Star break and they’re in first place in the division. No, the late June standings don’t count for anything. But they offer a temporary feeling of hope, if you need that kind of motivation as you look ahead to the next 80 or 90 games, which will tell us where everyone actually stands.
You tip your hats to them. And maybe put the hats on the top of a broom, because we swept them. But you only do the hat-on-broom thing in the privacy of the clubhouse, and even then you chide the rookies for being immature. We’ve beaten the Jays 16 straight times at the Stadium. You have to act like you’ve been there before.
Friday, June 20: vs. Baltimore Orioles
Every new Yankee craves his chance to finally “earn his pinstripes.” Signing a huge contract doesn’t do it. The moment comes at different times for different players. Sometimes it’s a huge, clutch hit, like Giambi’s grand slam in the rain. Sometimes it’s Wade Boggs riding a horse in the outfield in ’96 after winning his first ring, keeping the Curse intact. Sometimes it’s Johnny Damon scrambling to third in the ’09 Series. You never know when it’s going to come, or even if it’s going to come. It never happens for some guys no matter how hard they try.
Tonight Beltran hit a three-run walk-off homer. It was unquestionably one of our better wins of the year. But as Belty crossed the plate, he looked over to me and drew his finger down his uniform shirt several times, tracing the lines. I shook my head. Not yet.
He nodded back. He’s a veteran. He gets it. You can’t fault him for trying, though. All you can do is try to inspire him to start outhitting Yangervis Solarte.
Saturday, June 21: vs. Baltimore Orioles
Today Tino Martinez got his Monument Park plaque. What a great honor for him. Some people like to complain that maybe his career doesn’t quite measure up to some of the other guys who are immortalized out there, and that the Yankees go overboard with celebrating their winners. First of all, it’s not like they’re retiring his number, which is the highest honor in all of baseball. Secondly, those people will never understand the importance of winning. Tino won four rings with us. There are 21 teams that haven’t won four championships in their entire histories. They should put up plaques to Tino (or Mo, or Andy, or Jorgie, or Paulie, or Coney, or Bernie) as an example to their young players instead of worrying if our centerfield shrine area is looking a little crowded. I’ve suggested several times to the Wilpons that they should open an overflow Monument Park in Citi Field, so that when things get too crowded in the Bronx, fans can take a shuttle bus over to Flushing to have that important Yankee experience in a less congested atmosphere. They haven’t taken us up on the offer yet. But I think they’ll come around and realize it would be a nice draw for them. People can only visit the statue of Art Shamsky and Tug McGraw playing hearts so many times.
Sunday, June 22: vs. Baltimore Orioles
Old Timers’ Day is always one of my favorite days of the season. It was great to see all my old teammates yesterday at Tino’s thing, but it’s something even more special to have so many exceptional Yankees assembled at the Stadium all at once, spanning generations and championship years. You lose count of all the rings. And it’s fun to try to explain to a Dellin Betances who a Goose Gossage is and why he’s getting a plaque one day after they gave one out to someone else. You’re not sure the young kids totally get it yet, but they will one day. You could almost choke on all this tradition at once if you weren’t careful to take small gulps. You don’t want the guys to gag on the excellence. You almost want to chew it up for them and feed them like baby birds in a nest you’ve built them inside a Series trophy to establish a winning habitat.
I see Yogi standing alone by the dugout, staring at me. Or maybe even through me. He’s not calling me over, but I go to him anyway. He has that kind of silent pull on people.
“I’ll take 10 hot dogs.”
“I’m not the hot dog guy, Yogi.”
He shrugs and starts to walk away.
“The end comes quick, kid. And then you’re just a guy without any hot dogs.”
I watch him sock Brian McCann in the gut and then disappear into a crowd by the mound.
Monday, June 23: at Toronto Blue Jays
Chase Whitley gets bombed. I’ve always thought you don’t truly become a big league pitcher until you get your first shelling out of the way, but all of a sudden I prefer the way Tanaka’s been putting it off.
I read about how the Rays took BP off a teenage girl who can throw the knuckler and I wonder if maybe she’d be better in one of our back-end rotation spots, their reviews of her stuff were pretty positive. I put a printout of the story in Vidal Nuno’s locker. You wonder if he’ll get the message or just start working on another junk pitch.
Tuesday, June 24: at Toronto Blue Jays
I have a bad inning in the field in the fifth. You’ve played enough games to know when you’ve had a bad inning out there. All you can do is admit you’ve made a mistake, or even two mistakes, and move on. With two outs and two guys on, I look to third, then look to second before throwing to first. The throw is late. Then later I let Colby Rasmus escape a rundown. They were bad decisions. They cost us runs. I don’t make those bad decisions because of my age, or because I’m any less capable between the lines in my last season, which is a question they’re raising on the Baseball Tonight highlights. I’m still in the best shape of my life. I make those bad decisions in the fifth because sometimes you make bad decisions.
Did they cost us the game? Maybe. You win as a team and don’t win as a team. But as Captain you have to own your part in it. I get right back up there in the top of the sixth and hit a home run, because you have to get back those runs you give away. We almost get them all back. But not enough in the end. They let us make up six runs, but not seven. That’s all they needed to do, and they did it. You tip your hat to this Toronto team. And you go out there to make sure that tomorrow they don’t put those hats on top of brooms.
Wednesday, June 25: at Toronto Blue Jays
I get back to the hotel room and A-Rod’s out of whatever wardrobe portal he’s found this time, maybe because he’s found a way to travel via empty ice bucket, and standing in front of a giant box with a red bow on it.
“It’s for you, Jetes.”
“Is it from you, Alex?”
“Not this time.”
“Who’s it from?”
“I would never read your card, Jetes. That’s your private business.”
“I don’t see a card.”
“That’s because I was holding it safe for you.”
He hands me the card.
“It’s probably a birthday present.”
“It’s not my birthday.”
“It’s tomorrow. I have it in my special birthday calendar.”
“Then maybe I shouldn’t open it.”
“Why would you not open it right away? Do you feel old, Jetes?”
“It’s a pretty big birthday.”
“It’s just another birthday.”
“A birthday with a big number.”
“It’s just another number.”
“Can you not even say the big number?”
“Of course I can.”
“The number is 40.”
“I know that, Alex.”
“Does it make you think about dying?”
“You’re so morbid lately.”
“Death is all around us, Jetes. All is decay.”
“I don’t feel like I’m dying.”
“But you are. A little more every day. Especially tomorrow.”
“Then I guess I better open this box before I go.”
I tug on the bow and it gives way. The box’s sides fall open.
Inside the box are stack and stacks of pieces of paper.
Alex takes a handful.
“Ballots, Jetes. All-Star ballots. Punched for you.”
He begins to eat them.
I read the card.
Happy Early Fortieth Birth-day.
I hope you enjoy this humble Gift.
One Hundred Thousand Ballots cast in your Name.
Which I, with my boundless Discretionary Power, have deemed Invalid.
I have already burned 300,000 others.
More still shall be cast upon the Pyre.
You shall not start your Final All-Star Tilt on my watch.
May you occupy the Bench with quiet Indignity.
Put there by sentimental Simps cowed by your tainted Legacy.
Commissioner of the Base-Ball
Post-Script: This time it Counts.
Alex shoves another handful of ballots into his mouth.
“Don’t worry, Jetes,” he mumbles through the pulp. “My birthday gift is much nicer.”