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.
Wednesday, May 7: at Anaheim Angels
I’m never going to be comfortable with the so-called “farewell tour.” It takes the focus off the team and puts it on one player. Baseball’s the ultimate team sport. No one goes out there and wins all by himself. Not even a Captain could pitch the ball, run down behind the plate, catch it, and then field it all by himself, even in the prime of his career. It just can’t be done. Even Babe Ruth didn’t do that. You need all nine guys in the field, and all 25 guys on the roster. Maybe not all the relief pitchers, but most of them. That’s your team. You go to battle together even if you’re not all getting presents before the game.
I don’t even like that’s it’s called a farewell tour. You don’t want to sound unappreciative, because you’re not, every one of these ceremonies is going to be special in its own way, maybe even whatever awful thing they’re planning for me in Boston. But you’re not on tour. You’re here to play games. And to win games. Part of you wonders if they’re giving you gifts in the hope that you’ll be so moved by the gesture you might be distracted enough not to play your best. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, you might carry a little extra out there if they give you something weird like, say, a giant paddleboard because you’re playing a game in Anaheim and you’re within 25 miles of the ocean. You don’t generally associate angels with paddleboarding, but it’s probably good that they didn’t hand me a pinstriped duffel bag full of Rally Monkey parts. You half-expected it after the encounter with the monkey last night.
The nice part of it, though, is getting to spend some time with some guys from the other teams that you’re going to compete against for only a little while longer. During warmups Mike Trout comes over to say hello and pay his respects. You see a guy like him and you feel good about the future of the game. He could be one of the all-time greats based on his progress his first two seasons. Or he could wind up being basically nothing. You don’t really know how a player’s going to turn out until the first couple of championships, and the championships might never even happen. They give out only one a year. That’s why they’re so special. You can be a five-tool player like a Mike Trout, but the only hardware that matters at the end of the day is that Series trophy.
I sign his glove with a special message. “To Mike Trout, Best Wishes — DJ2 Last Season.” When they revive him from the fainting spell, I give him a fist bump. He throws up after the fist bump. He’s a good kid.
Thursday, May 8: Off-day
We land in Milwaukee and the traveling secretary pulls me aside with a worried look on his face, like he’s about to give me bad news. He tells me the airline lost the paddleboard in transit. I tell him that’s OK. I don’t envision much paddleboarding in retirement. I didn’t draw a giant surfboard when visualizing my post-career life-circle.
Friday, May 9: at Milwaukee Brewers
Potentially scary moment in tonight’s game when a fan jumps out from the left-field stands and runs out onto the field, heading right for me. I’m not actually scared, though. He has a pretty calm-looking face. Kind of like Mike Trout. He says he wants a hug, and I tell him to look out, because about a dozen security guys are about to gang-tackle him, which they do immediately. I want to reach down into the pile and give the guy a fist bump as he struggles against the guards, because he put in a pretty good effort and all you can do is give 110 percent in everything you do in life, but then I remember that probably doesn’t set a good example for future fans who might not seem as nonthreatening. Security pins back his arms, zip-ties his wrists, and frog-marches him out of the stadium. He looks back over his shoulder at me as they go and I could swear it’s actually Mike Trout. They stun-gun him in the neck for trying to turn back toward me again.
Later I check the Angels’ box score to make sure Trout played up in Toronto. He did. It’s a relief and a disappointment at the same time.
Saturday, May 10: at Milwaukee Brewers
CC starts for us and gets a folk hero’s welcome from the Brewers. They remember how he almost single-handedly got them to the playoffs in ’08 by pitching every game down the stretch, and they appreciate it because they’ve made the postseason only four times in 40 years. CC’s a gamer. He’d give his left arm to win, even to a team that traded for him midseason and that he immediately left the moment he had a chance to become a Yankee.
But sometimes you wonder if he really did give his arm to the Brewers. His velocity’s way down. He’s giving up too many home runs and too many big innings. It happens again to him tonight. Three more homers.
You start to worry about him a little. CC’s got a lot of miles on him. We all do now. By “we” I mostly mean the Teixeiras and Beltrans and Ichiros and Kurodas and Sorianos, because I’m in some of the best shape of my life to prepare for this final year, it’s pretty incredible actually. But we’re all veterans and as you get older and more experienced you find new and exciting ways to win. Overall you have to like our chances with that much experience in the dugout. We’ll get things figured out. The bumps and bruises will heal and we’ll be right where we want to be come September, when the real season starts. CC will put back on some summer weight. He’ll be OK. He’s a gamer.
Sunday, May 11: at Milwaukee Brewers
We’re flying back home after a tough one when a stewardess places a very old leather valise on my tray table. I open it. Inside is a photograph. Showing two gnarled feet standing atop a paddleboard. My paddleboard. I turn over the photo. There’s a message:
My sincerest Regrets that I missed you in my Fair City of Milwaukee.
I trust you did not enjoy that Series.
The Brewe Crewe remain atop their Division.
And where are your Pinstripers now?
Looking up at the wretched Orange-Birds of Baltimore?
These are assuredly Apples that are not to your liking.
Enjoy the long Flight home, as I shall enjoy my new beach toy.
Commissioner of the Base-Ball
I stow the valise in the overhead compartment and make my way back to the plane’s lavatory.
I try the door. It says it’s unoccupied but it won’t open. I try again and the doors accordion open just far enough to reveal a face.
A face with two piercing blue eyes staring back at me.
“Hey, Jetes,” the face whispers. A-Rod. “How did you get on the plane?”
“The doors and the tiny enclosed space. They count as a wardrobe.”
“They do?” “I’m just as surprised as you are. You learn something new every day inside the wardrobe world, Jetes.”
“How do you even fit in there with your … ”
” … with my magnificent body? My massive haunches? Is that what you were going to say?”
“Something like that.”
“There are many mysteries even I don’t understand, Jetes. But I will one day, I promise you that.”
“Why are you here, Alex?”
“I miss the team, Jetes. Rough game tonight. I just wanted to be close by.” “But you can’t see anybody like this. You know that.”
“They feel my presence. Invisible moral support, Jetes.”
“I’d like to use the bathroom now, Alex.”
“Can you do me one favor first?”
“What do you want?”
“Send that stewardess in here.”
“I won’t do that.”
“She wouldn’t even fit.”
“The flying wardrobe is magic, Jetes. Trust me, there’s room.”
I shut the doors on him. The latch switches to “Occupied.” Then quickly back to “Unoccupied.”
I open them and A-Rod is gone.
Monday, May 12: vs. New York Mets
The Subway Series seems to start earlier every year. It’s a strange feeling to be playing the Mets in early May, especially when you consider half their team played for the Yankees within the past five years. Grandy. Bobby Abreu. Kyle Farnsworth. My old friend Bartolo. It’s almost as if their management thinks they can buy little pieces of the Yankee mystique while they rebuild, which has been in a sad kind of tailspin since the 2000 World Series. You feel for them, you do. It can be tough to watch a once-semi-proud expansion franchise struggle on the fringes of a city that ignores them when you know they could be much happier in New Jersey or on the Red Sox side of Connecticut. Maybe even in downtown Hartford. Flushing’s never the answer for anybody unless they’re holding a tennis racket.
Yogi’s at the Stadium for a celebration of his 89th birthday. I make sure to get a few moments with him since he’s usually just appearing out of thin air. As the eldest living inner-circle True Yankee, I feel like I can confide in him. There’s an implicit trust between us as travelers in the Pinstripe Infinity. I try to tell him about the Commissioner’s messages in hopes he might offer some wisdom. They probably had commissioners when he played, though maybe not this kind. But Yogi just raises a crooked catcher’s finger at me and says:
It always works out the way it works out.
And then he hands me a tiny batting helmet full of Dippin’ Dots and says:
The ice cream of the future is also the ice cream of now. Doesn’t matter when you eat it.
Yogi nods in approval as I try them. The Dippin’ Dots are surprisingly good. Never had them before.
Tuesday, May 13: vs. New York Mets
You hope that a game like this brings a team together. It’s an embarrassing result, made worse by the fact that suddenly everyone’s injured. CC’s having his knee looked at by Dr. Andrews. Ichiro and Shawn Kelley have bad backs. Beltran has a spur in his elbow. Tex is nursing a sore groin after just getting back from the DL a couple weeks ago. You have to assume something’s wrong with Sori’s eyes because he keeps swinging at sliders in the batting circle. You don’t know exactly what the record is because you don’t check this early in the season, but it feels .500ish and going in the wrong direction after the current slide.
I look across the field into the visitor’s dugout. The kids over there are laughing it up. It’s not every month they score 12 runs. I see Bartolo and he meets my eyes. He’s holding a batting helmet. He reaches inside and pulls out a handful of Dippin’ Dots and dumps them into his gaping mouth.
My team has to eat the ice cream of now. There’s no ice cream of the future for me.