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 11: vs. Tampa Bay
We’re being no-hit into the eighth inning by a guy named Alex Cobb when I say something to the team. It’s important to pick your spots for saying something. Timing is everything. You say something too early, maybe your message gets lost. You say something too late, maybe you missed your chance to change the course of a game. You get a feel for this kind of thing over 19 years in the big leagues. It takes trial and error, but also instinct.
So when I look up at the scoreboard and see that 0 under the “H” column on the scoreboard, I know the time is right to speak up. Usually, you’d like to just go out there and lead by the example of breaking up the no-no yourself, but in a circumstance where that strategy hadn’t paid off for eight innings, it was time to fall back on words instead of actions.
“We’re not getting no-hit by Alex Cobb.”
Stephen Drew nods. Grabs a bat. Heads to the plate. Then gets himself out immediately. Stephen Drew continues to be some kind of double agent still on the Red Sox payroll, sent here to torpedo our season and sow the same kind of chaos he was a part of in Boston. And he’s having more success with it than you’re comfortable with.
So I try again:
“We’re not getting no-hit by Alex Cobb.”
Chris Young, who came over here after he couldn’t even stick with the Mets, nods from the batting circle. Even if you’re not confident in the player, you have to be confident in your message. As Captain, you have a responsibility to project your own confidence into the vessel of your teammates, even if you fear one of those vessels was totally shattered by failing out of Queens. I nod back at Chris Young to let him know I believe in him. You can say a lot with a nod.
And Chris Young hits a double. We are not getting no-hit by Alex Cobb.
Next I tell Prado, who’s about to pinch hit:
“We’re not getting shut out by Alex Cobb.”
Prado homers. We’re down two runs, but we’re right back in it. It’s a start.
In the bottom of the ninth, when it’s time to finish, I change the message.
“Let’s get three.”
Chase Headley leans into one chin-first. You have to respect a guy who’s so committed to getting the job done he’s willing to start a rally by taking a pitch to the face. He’s a gamer.
And up comes Chris Young again. I repeat the message, because even though he came through huge for us an inning ago, he’s still pretty damaged. You need to make sure he hears you.
“Let’s get three.”
He nods. I nod.
We get three.
I wait for him at the back of the pile at home plate. He makes his way through a mob of high-fiving teammates and finds me. And he says:
“Thanks for believing in me, Captain.”
He says it with a nod, but I know exactly what he’s trying to communicate.
I nod back. His eyes start to fill up with tears.
I could translate what I said here, but sometimes you have to leave things out of your diary. I’ll just say it was a very special moment for him.
We’re off to Baltimore with incredible momentum. Yeah, they’ve got a healthy lead in the division, and you have to be realistic about your chances this late in September.
It might take us until the last week of the season to catch them.
Friday, September 12: at Baltimore (doubleheader)
They suspend Chris Davis 25 games for amphetamines. They say he’s taking Adderall. You hate to play a team at less than full strength when everything’s on the line, but it’s also not your place to worry about why a guy who wants to cheat couldn’t find a horse doctor to pretend that a major league All-Star has problems concentrating. It is what it is.
And it didn’t wind up helping us.
We go into the top of the 11th of the first game tied 0-0. Chris Young homers again, without specific instructions from me; he just gets it now. We go into the bottom of the 11th up 1-0.
Adam Warren can’t make it stand up.
I’m standing at my locker afterward, still pretty stunned by how it fell apart so quickly, when I feel a tug at my elbow. It’s a batboy. A very short batboy, carrying a briefcase decorated with the interlocking “NY” symbol. He tells me I need to come with him.
And for some reason, I listen.
He leads me to a janitorial closet and closes the door behind us.
It’s only then I realize the batboy is Yogi.
It’s getting late early out there.
I can’t tell if he’s talking or if I’m hearing him only inside my head.
It’s never been more now than it is right now. And now’s running out.
He opens the briefcase. Cold fog pours out. It clears enough that I can make out a glass cube inside the case. And inside that cube is a heart.
A frozen heart.
I know immediately it’s the Boss’s frozen heart.
Yogi leans over and puts an ear near it. It makes no sound.
He leans in even closer to the heart. He nods as if he’s finally got it.
You win or you don’t win. But better you win.
He shakes his head. More icy fog pours out of the cube, like it’s angry. No, that wasn’t right.
You better fucking win.
Yogi slams the briefcase shut.
I nod. He nods back. All the inner-circle True Yankees speak nod.
He leaves me alone in the janitor’s closet. I stand there for probably another hour, by myself with my thoughts.
We fail to score at all in the second game of the doubleheader. I go 0-for-4.
I catch a glimpse of the batboy across the locker room afterward. He shakes his head and disappears.
My heart goes cold.
Saturday, September 13: at Baltimore
Chris Young steals home. We get this one. Big W.
Maybe it takes us until the final game of the season to catch them.
Sometimes you have to adjust your timetable for winning based on circumstance.
But not too much. October’s right around the corner.
Sunday, September 14: at Baltimore
It’s my final regular-season appearance at Camden. I’ve played well here. I’m going to miss all that success. For a good stretch of my career, this place felt like a second home stadium. You feel like if we wind up here in the playoffs, our local fans will turn out to cheer us on, just like they have since we came through here on the way to the ’96 Series.
Which is probably why Buck Showalter keeps joking to the press that he was going to cut off Jeffrey Maier’s arm and give it to me as a retirement gift. You wonder if Commissioner Selig offered to sell it to him. Or if the bucket of crabs the Orioles actually give me before the game was also Selig’s idea for a gag gift. If it was, I don’t get the joke. Unless it’s that I don’t like crabs, which I don’t, but I’m not even sure how he would know that. I’ve always kept my shellfish preferences pretty close to the vest.
I don’t spend too much time wondering why Boog Powell couldn’t stop giggling after he gave me the crabs. Because we don’t put enough runs on the board, David Robertson doesn’t close it down, and Kelly Johnson walks off on us. Which hurts even a little more than it should, because we just traded him to the Sox for Stephen Drew, and suddenly here he is playing for the Orioles against us in a crucial series. You almost have to be impressed with the job Drew is doing, even if Brian Cashman returns your text about it with “LOL, tell the guys to start scoring instead of being paranoid.”
You hate to even entertain these thoughts, but after a series like this, it’s impossible not to think them. Does this team around you want it enough?
But after some soul-searching, you have your answer: Of course they do. Because you’re their Captain, and they see what winning means to you. Which is everything.
And that answer has to carry you through a series like this.
Especially when it ends with finding a cadaver’s arm, wearing your signature model baseball glove on its hand, in your luggage as you pack to leave for Tampa. An arm with this note pinned to it:
O Captain (Not My Captain!),
It would have been Untoward to include this in your Ceremony today.
But know that Skipper Showalter and I wanted you to have it
As an enduring Symbol of the incredible Luck upon which your onetime Success is predicated.
Enjoy the final days of this failed Campaign.
Knowing no Pennants shall fly for you when it is over.
Allan H. Selig
Commissioner of the Base-Ball
Monday, September 15: at Tampa Bay
Another shutout. The Orioles clinch the division. It’s math now, and you can’t argue with math. You can try, but the numbers will always keep adding up the same way. Better to do the equations that end up with us winning the wild card and marching back through Baltimore on the way to the Series. That’s the kind of math you can live with.
Tuesday, September 16: at Tampa Bay
I dress quietly and head straight home to my Tampa place after the game. One run tonight. Better than the zero runs last night, but not nearly enough to get the job done.
The minute I walk through the door, I notice the dirty hoofprints stretching from the bedroom wing, across the atrium tile. I follow them down the Hallway of Endless Success, past the Ring Room, and all the way through to the Highlight Dome.
Inside, A-Rod’s watching himself in the 2009 Series. He’s clopping back and forth in front of the big 3-D screen, taking all his grounders at third again, virtually.
“Your hooves are going to ruin the Kentucky faux-grass. That’s stuff’s really expensive.”
He looks over his shoulder briefly, then returns to his reps.
“Not my concern, Jetes. You’ll buy more.”
I shut off the projector.
“Good idea. Why don’t you load up all the shortstop plays next? I’m going to need my practice for next year.”
“You’ve got to give up on this shortstop thing.”
“Why? It’s the Captain’s position. And I’m going to be Captain.”
“Whatever you say, Alex.”
“Don’t doubt me, Jetes. I’ll do whatever it takes to fulfill my destiny.”
“I’m sure you will.”
“I have vast leadership reserves I’m just starting to tap. Ask anyone in the ’drobe. They’d follow me anywhere.”
“The Yankees don’t have any beavers in top hats, last time I checked.”
“You jest, but that Mr. Humbert Q. Paddletail would kill for me. And maybe he has.”
“I’ll be sure to warn all the trees in the American League to watch out for him.”
“Do you ever feel guilty?”
“Guilty about what?”
“About stealing shortstop from me?”
“I never stole anything. That was a decision the organization made.”
“I think you’ve always secretly felt guilty, Jetes.”
“My conscience is clear.”
“No matter. I was a good team player and did what I was told. No complaints.”
“You seem not that happy about it now.”
“I’ve made peace with my past. But next year I’m fixing it. All of it.”
“Good luck with that.”
“You’ll see. You’ll see how happy New York will be again when I bring them the championship you couldn’t.”
“That’s great. The city deserves another one to go with the one it’s getting this year. They’re even better in pairs.”
“Now if you don’t mind, I have some infield practice to finish.”
“You know what? Knock yourself out.”
I throw him the remote control.
He cues up the 2000 World Series.
“I love this one. You were MVP.”
“Yeah, I remember. There’s a gallery up the hall.”
“I bet it’s nice to remember when you could still play.”
“Good luck with your practice.”
“Maybe you should get in here after me. You don’t have a hit since Derek Jeter Day.”
I leave him to his video. As I walk up the hall, I can hear his hooves tearing up the turf.
I follow his hoofprint trail back to the wardrobe in my master bedroom.
He’s redecorated. My bed’s been replaced by a stable stall of some kind. And there are new paintings everywhere. Paintings of The Dive. The Flip. The 3,000th Hit.
But starring a centaur.
I look closely at the crowd in the 3,000th Hit painting. You can see two centaur parents cheering him on from the front row.
I take all the art down and toss it into the wardrobe.
But I’m too tired to do anything about the stall. So I curl up on the hay bale inside it and fall asleep.
I dream of those centaur parents.
They look so proud.