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, July 10: at Cleveland Indians
Nothing good ever happens in Cleveland. You wonder if that’s just a coincidence, or if the whole city’s cursed. You wonder if anything good will ever happen here ever again. You hate to say that kind of thing, but it’s hard not to wonder if the place is beyond help. You hope LeBron doesn’t come back; he’d probably get hit by a truck in the middle of his press conference. You just want him to be safe.
On Tuesday night, Tanaka walked off the mound in the seventh inning and left his worst game so far in America. His first game in a new league in a new country where he didn’t have it, where he finally struggled to make adjustments and get by with what he had. He walked off the mound down two runs, shaking his head, upset about giving up the ball. He’s a gamer, he always wants the ball. That’s what you like the most about him. He might have carried the game ball into the dugout. I don’t know, I didn’t pay close attention, we had a lead to get back. But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he sneaked it all the way back to the clubhouse just to throw it in the garbage or drown it in the spa. You have to respect that impulse to drown a baseball that’s not doing what you want it to.
The news gets worse from there.
Today we find out he’s got a UCL tear in his elbow. They say he’s out six weeks at a minimum, and if rehab doesn’t work, it’s Tommy John time.
So that’s four out of five starters from our Opening Day rotation who are out. Poof. Nova’s gone for the year. CC’s gone for the year. Pineda could get another cramp in his shoulder blade playing catch and be gone for the year. We might not see Tanaka till September, if ever again. TJ surgery has a high success rate, but you never want to bet too much money on how your arm’s going to react to having part of a dead person sewn into it. You could get a haunted ligament and never throw another splitter. You don’t know.
Losing 80 percent of your rotation’s not anyone’s idea of good luck, but baseball’s never been about luck. It’s about going out there, one game at a time, and making your own luck by playing as hard as you can behind four starters who had no reasonable expectation of pitching in the big leagues this year, much less in the middle of a pennant race.
I arrange for the team bus to get a police escort from the stadium to the hotel. But I get cops brought in from Cincinnati. I’m not taking chances with anything Cleveland-related anymore. Too risky.
Friday, July 11: at Baltimore Orioles
You try your hardest to stay off the gossip pages, but sometimes they put you on there anyway. That’s life. You’re used to it by now.
Am I the “secret owner” of a high-tech underwear company? You wonder where Page Six gets this stuff. There’s no secret here. When you’re given the opportunity to invest in an amazing product, you take it. One day soon, sometime in very late October, my playing career will end with our 28th championship. You can’t sit on the money you made as a player. It’s not an egg you’re trying to hatch. You’ve already hatched it, and now it’s time to grow what you have. It doesn’t matter if it’s underwear or restaurants or a book imprint that’s going to revolutionize the publishing business. I’m not going to mention the name of the company here, because my diary doesn’t take advertising, even for my own holdings. But you can be sure that I’m not ashamed of anything I invest in. I helped develop that super-ergonomic genital pouch. I’m not running from it. In fact, it’s helping me run more comfortably and efficiently every day. Toward a more financially secure post-baseball life.
Saturday, July 12: at Baltimore Orioles
Tanaka released a statement yesterday apologizing to us for getting hurt. Of course it’s totally unnecessary, it’s not his fault. It’s probably the fault of the Japanese manager who let him throw 250 pitches a game, or the high school coaches who think kids can start four games a week because their elbows are still soft or something.
But you really appreciate the thought behind the apology. I told you I really like that guy. He gets it. A class act all the way. Any day now you expect CC to do the same thing about his bum knee. He did what he could this offseason losing all the weight, but 10 years of crashing down on that after his five-bowl pregame meal of Crunch Berries had to have taken its toll. But you’re a baseball player, not a dietitian or kinesthesiologist. You’re speculating at best about that knee/cereal relationship.
Sunday, July 13: at Baltimore Orioles
It’s the fourth anniversary of the Boss’s death. It never gets any easier.
Every year on this day I like to sit quietly and reflect upon what he meant to me and to my life. He gave me everything. He surrounded me with winning teams so I could help bring him the championships he wanted so badly. I already have an incredible father figure in my actual father, but Mr. Steinbrenner would have been that for me had I needed one. He offered to adopt me on more than one occasion, usually when I was approaching free agency. I always took that as more of a sign of appreciation than a manipulative negotiating tactic, because you have to give people who’ve played crucial roles in your life the benefit of the doubt.
In his will, he left me a series of DVDs he recorded for me before his passing, labeled year by year, and I’m supposed to play the corresponding one on the last day of every season. In each video he congratulates me on bringing the Yankees another World Series title. On this year’s DVD he’ll be thanking me for our 32nd championship. He assumes we win every year, because he left us an organization where that’s the only goal. He looks so happy counting up all the prop rings, adding one every time.
He made me DVDs up through championship no. 50. He never wanted me to retire and stop winning.
I don’t really want to, either.
But you have to be realistic. Twenty-eight will have to be enough when I step away.
I’ll keep watching the DVDs, though.
And maybe I’ll show them to the next Captain, whoever that is. He might not even be born yet. We’ll see.
Monday, July 14: All-Star Break
“Are you excited for the Home Run Derby, Jetes?”
A-Rod is standing in the middle of my hotel room, swinging a tiny golden bat. I don’t recognize the logo on it, but it seems that whatever team it’s for has a winged unicorn for a mascot. A unicorn with an even smaller bat for its horn.
“Are they letting you play in it?”
“Hitting homers was never really my game, Alex.”
“I know that. Doubles are nice too.”
“I hit a few homers, though.”
“Sure you did, Jetes. A few.”
“It all worked out OK for me.”
“Would you like to hear about how I won the derby at our All-Drobe game?”
“Tell me all about it.”
“Crushed it. Like 300 to zero. I stopped keeping track. Those fauns have no upper-body strength, Jetes.”
“That’s nice for you.”
“Do you want to bring my trophy bat here to the game with you tomorrow?”
“For good luck?”
“I don’t think I’ll need it.”
“It would be so special.”
“I think I’m all set.”
“It would be like I was there with you.”
“I’m good. Really.”
Alex gets quiet and leans down to my level. Looks me in the eyes. Whispers.
“It will keep you safe from that Bud Selig, Jetes.”
“That’s very nice of you. But I don’t need protecting.”
He stands back up.
“Have it your way, Captain Bravery.”
He clops toward the coat closet.
“See you after the game tomorrow, Jetes. I hope. ”
And then he’s gone.
I notice he’s left the bat on the bed.
Tuesday, July 15: All-Star Game
I tell everybody that the All-Star Game is not all about me. Even if it’s my last one. You’re just honored to be named a starter by the fans and get one last chance to go out there and help win home-field advantage in the Series for the Yankees. You don’t need VIP treatment. You don’t need extra tributes. You don’t need a guy with a microphone hanging out in the dugout, trying to get me to talk about how much more special this game is than my other games. I’ll give you the same answer every time: Every one is equally special. They are all equivalent. The first one in 1998 is no different than this one in 2014, except for that in ’98 I was afraid to go talk to Mr. Ripken and in ’14 all the young guys are afraid to talk to me. Which is crazy. We’re teammates. Yeah, I’m their Captain, and a lot of them wear my number now, but the fact that I’ve been here 13 or 14 times doesn’t put me above them, even if this is the first and last shot at this. I’ll bump every last fist in the dugout. I’ll sign every ball and jersey, even if it’s embarrassing for me to be fussed over like that for having the career of my dreams. And they all get the same personalized inscription:
Best wishes — DJ2 Final All-Star Game
In the locker room before the game they force me to give a little speech. So I tell them all to enjoy their playing days while they can, because it all goes by very fast. And I mean every word of that speech, which I wrote myself, and which my journaling coach previewed. My career feels like it started yesterday and now there’s only three months and one more ring left. In the blink of an eye it’ll be over. And then I’ll begin the next phase of my life. I’ll have new challenges to conquer and new dreams to achieve with a 100 percent success rate. Jeter Publishing will overtake Random House. The 2scake Factory will dominate The Cheesecake Factory. The underwear company will teach Hanes a thing or two about ultra-comfortable men’s undergarments. And I’ll savor all of those future victories the same way I’ve savored the ones in baseball.
You come into the game totally without any kind of expectation other than winning, but it goes about as well as you could’ve hoped. I double off Adam Wainwright when he pipes me one down the middle in my first at-bat and come around to score the first run. (He gets a special signed ball sent to his dugout between innings: Best wishes — DJ2 Final All-Star Game.) I hit an opposite-field single off Alfredo Simon in my second at-bat. I get removed after taking the field in the fourth inning, which sets off a nice standing ovation from the fans. I didn’t know they were going to do that or I would have tried to talk them out of it. Even as the cheering begins I try to wave to the crowd to let them know their incredible show of appreciation isn’t necessary, we still have a game to play and win, but they go on standing and clapping. I look into the crowd and everyone’s tipping their caps to me like in that new Nike commercial I asked Michael Jordan not to make, except nobody in the stadium’s famous because this isn’t the NBA All-Star Game, it’s a game for real fans, a game that counts. But like I said, even though you find the spectacle very moving and a huge honor, you come to an uneasy peace with the fact that no one respects your wishes to be treated like everybody else on the field, even the Mets who are only there because there’s a rule. You learn to accept the outpouring of love you didn’t ask for.
We win the game, and that’s all that matters. They give that nice kid Mike Trout the MVP award. He tries to hand it to me but I refuse. It’s his trophy. He’ll have a lot of them before he’s done playing. He’s the future of our game, especially if he eventually takes hold of his destiny and engineers a trade to the Yankees, where he can achieve his full greatness.
I notice Commissioner Selig shooting me a piercing look when I decline the award he’s just given to Trouty. There are hundreds of media roaming the field, and Selig approaches me for a photo opportunity. He places a hand on my shoulder and one at my side and leans in to whisper in my ear.
“Enjoy it, Captain.”
He pulls back and our eyes meet as the flashbulbs burst around us.
“But never forget who controls the base-ball.”
He pulls me in as if to go for a hug. I feel something hot pierce me underneath the NY on my uniform.
I look down and see him pushing a tiny knife into my ribs. He’s turned our bodies so the cameras can’t see what’s he done.
I gasp for breath. It probably looks like I’m smiling, overcome by the moment.
The Commissioner turns and walks away.
I look down where the knife cut me. But there’s no blood.
I feel for it, but there’s no wound.
The Commissioner waves back to me.
Above the field, a dozen giant crows take flight.
I definitely didn’t ask for the dozen-crow salute, either.