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, May 29: Off Day
It’s important to never lose your focus. Even on the rare occasions you find yourself daydreaming, you’re so well-trained and disciplined that it’s almost always about baseball. It’s about parades. And trophies. Ticker tape in the air, champagne running down the lenses of your safety goggles, a new ring heavy on one of your few bare fingers. The slow drive down the Canyon of Heroes, the key to the city, the trip to the White House. The late-night visitation from the spirits of the True Yankees, who remind you that the trappings of victory are meaningless; all that matters is going right back out there next year and winning again. They’re not even daydreams, really. They’re championship premonitions. You’re haunted by excellence.
But sometimes the daydreams aren’t about baseball. It happens. The mind is a mysterious thing. Thinking about Rick Reilly’s letter to my unborn children and the commissioner’s threatening scroll to them makes the mind wander. I can’t help it. I open up this diary to a blank page in hopes of regaining baseball focus, but the questions come flooding out. Who are my future kids? What will they be like? The names are picked out. They’re going to be boys, I know that much. Derek Sanderson Steinbrenner 2 and Lil Captain. One year apart, both born on February 2. Both righties. Both naturally gifted but such hard workers you can’t begrudge them their talent.
But you can’t know the future. You can’t know their future. All you can do is support them and put them in a position to succeed in everything they attempt, the way my parents did with me. You can draft the Success Contracts and have them sign the minute they’re old enough to scribble their initials in Crayola. Maybe that’s not legally binding, but it’s spiritually binding. I’ve said they’ll go on to be pro athletes in other sports so they can blaze their own trails outside of my shadow, but they can be anything they want, even shortstops for the Yankees. You’d never place limits on their ambition; it’s right there in the deals they signed, as long as they keep their grades up. We’ll work out a platoon and DH situation at the major league level if they don’t decide to switch positions as they come up through the minors. If they’re both in the lineup, DJ2J’s hitting second on even-numbered days, L-Cap on the odd. Jorgie’s going to be their manager. It sounds complicated but it’s all going to work out great.
So these are the daydreams. Safe inside my head and in my diary, where Mr. Selig can’t get to them. Or Rick Reilly. We don’t need a follow-up column with the updates on my future kids’ amazing careers. Nothing good could come of that.
Friday, May 30: vs. Minnesota Twins
The offense has really been struggling lately. Scoring is contagious, but so is not scoring. The bats can all go to sleep at the same time. You can tell the clubbie to get up multiple times in the middle of the night and shake the bats awake in the locker room, but that’s more superstition than any kind of proven remedy. You look up and down the bench in the dugout and you see a lot of guys slumping. Ellsbury’s cold. McCann’s yet to really get on track since coming over here. Ichiro’s fading again. Soriano’s whiffing on breaking stuff in the dirt. We play a game with him during batting practice called Don’t Swing at This. He stands at home plate and we place a ball on the infield grass 10 feet in front of him and yell, “Don’t swing at this!” He thinks he can hit it. He swings. He misses. We move the ball back two feet. “Don’t swing at this!” And so on until we put the ball down in center field. We all laugh, but it’s probably some kind of compulsive disorder. Sometimes we catch him in the tunnel, swinging at gnats.
He might need a few days off. He hasn’t killed a gnat in three weeks. You hope he eventually runs into one.
Saturday, May 31: vs. Minnesota Twins
Nuney and Phil Hughes both play for Minnesota now. You’re happy they both found a home after things didn’t work out in New York. The Twins are a good old-school organization. They do things their way, even if it’s a way that hasn’t worked since 1991. They have the patience and dedication to wait for the game to come to them, possibly as early as 2024. You really respect that kind of total faith in the process.
Nuney isn’t in the lineup today, but follows me around the infield the entire time during warm-ups, hoping to engage me. I refuse to make eye contact. It’s tough to look him in the eye knowing how he squandered his golden ticket, failing to establish himself while I was hurt last year and set himself up as the next Yankee shortstop after my retirement. Not everybody thrives on the pressure of playing in front of the greatest fans in the world, who always demand your best. Some guys are probably better off settling into a utility role on a fourth-place team. You can have a nice little career that way.
Still, I feel bad about ignoring Nuney and send over a signed baseball during the game.
“Could’ve been you in ’15. —DJ2 Final Season.”
Sometimes the best thing you can give somebody is the gift of motivation. You just hope it’s not too late to make a difference in his life.
Sunday, June 1: vs. Minnesota Twins
It’s Hughes’s first start at the Stadium since leaving the Yankees and escaping a brief and brutal captivity inside the Green Monster scoreboard before settling in Minnesota. He had a rough time here as a top prospect who never really put it all together to reach his full potential in New York. At least with Nuney there were no expectations, only hope.
And it’s probably the best game Hughes has ever pitched. Robertson blows the save and Phil walks away with a win, somehow.
I send over a signed game ball to congratulate him.
“Ask Nuney to show you his ball. —DJ2 Final Season”
Maybe one day they’ll get together and sell them as a set. Could be a nice nest egg for them.
Monday, June 2: vs. Seattle Mariners
Today the Post cornered me and asked me about my future ambitions. About whether I see myself owning a team one day.
Of course I see myself owning a team. That’s the goal. That’s always been the goal. A family. Kids. Saving the publishing business. Owning a major league baseball team and winning more championships with them. You play the game for a very short time, but you’re retired forever. There’s a lot of free time for accomplishing things. There are more goals on the list that I haven’t shared yet, not even with my diary.
Will I own part of the Yankees? That’s up to the Steinbrenners. You’d like to think that the Boss had been grooming you to join ownership all along, and that when the time was right, his executor would finally show Hank and Hal the supplemental hologram will he hid behind Joe DiMaggio’s plaque in Monument Park, which details his wishes on the exact percentage of the team you should be allowed to buy. You just hope that his sons take Mr. Steinbrenner’s wishes to heart and don’t challenge the hologram in court, because you don’t want a beautiful final wish to secure the future of the franchise ruined with costly extended litigation.
But until that day comes, you have to consider all opportunities while you wait to fulfill your pinstripe ownership destiny. It probably even makes sense to throw in a bid on the Mets. It would be an undeniable show of good faith to the Steinbrenners if you arranged the sale of David Wright and Matt Harvey to the Yankees as part of a bankruptcy liquidation. Maybe then they’d listen to what their father’s hologram is trying to tell them about bringing his “third son” officially into the family.
Tuesday, June 3: vs. Oakland Athletics
I return home to an empty apartment after a brutal extra-inning game against Oakland that featured yet another late bullpen collapse. There’s a single balloon tied to a chair in the kitchen. “Come find me!” is written on it in Sharpie. The balloon slowly rotates in the draft. The other side says “From Alex” inside a Sharpie heart.
I go to the wardrobe and open the doors. A dozen more balloons spill out and float up to the ceiling.
I grab one and read it.
Then I hear the sound of a party favor honking at me from inside the wardrobe, again and again.
I look inside and see the favor jutting out from A-Rod’s lips, furling and unfurling like a paper tongue. More honking.
“Happy Captainversary, Jetes,” he says, biting the favor between his lips.
“I don’t know that that is, Alex.”
“11 years ago today, you were named Yankee Captain. It’s your Captainversary.”
“I didn’t even realize.”
“I got you a present, Jetes. Do you want to see it?”
“Close your eyes and turn around.”
I close my eyes and turn around.
“Open your eyes.”
I open my eyes.
“Above the bed.”
Above the bed is a giant painting of my head on an eagle’s body. An eagle’s pinstriped body.
Its chest is adorned with a Nike swoosh and the number “2.” It holds a bat in one claw and a World Series trophy in the other.
“It’s sublime, Jetes. It’s OK if you’re silent for a while.”
I’m silent for a while.
“Congratulations on being the best Captain of them all. The mighty eagle of Yankee Captains.”
“We had a terrible game tonight. This is really no time for any kind of individual recognition, Alex.”
“It gets better, Jetes.”
“I suppose you’re going to tell me how.”
“You can be an eagle inside the wardrobe.”
“I’m not going to do that.”
“Maybe one day?”
“I don’t think so, Alex.”
“Have it your way.”
“I’m going to bed.”
“Should I close the ’drobe?”
“Very well. You’re the Captain on your Captainversary.”
Alex closes the wardrobe. The honks of the party favor grow softer, more distant.
I take the eagle painting down from above the bed and lean it up against the wardrobe.
The eagle has incredibly beautiful eyes.