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 25: vs. Baltimore Orioles
They said it was going to rain. They said the sky was going to open up and wipe away my final game at Yankee Stadium, never to be made up, because it’s too late in a lost season, and it doesn’t matter to anyone but the players on the field. And not even to all of them, because half of them would probably prefer to rest up for the playoffs. The non-Yankees half, which is just an unbelievable turn of events.
Because in the parts of 20 seasons I’ve played in New York, I’ve never stepped on this field, in front of these incredible home fans, and played a game where we were officially out of playoff contention. I’ve been blessed. I haven’t checked the stats, that’s someone else’s job, this diary doesn’t have a research team because it’s more about my own truth than the numbers that may or may not support it. But I can’t think of any other player who’s been fortunate enough in his career to say that. Twenty seasons, zero meaningless home games. Until his last-ever home game. You discover new blessings every day when you play for the New York Yankees, the greatest organization in the history of sports.
Here’s another blessing: The skies never open up. The rain never comes. We play the game.
And it’s not meaningless. We give it meaning.
I jog out of the dugout in the first, pausing to touch the Joe DiMaggio sign for the last time: “I want to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee.” And I think quietly to myself as I run out to my place at short: I also want to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee Captain, the most special kind of Yankee.
In the bottom of the first, I hit one off the wall in left-center. Miss a home run by about two feet. I settle for a double.
And then I steal third, because you know what? I’m not running on the legs of a 40-year-old, on an ankle that cost us the playoffs in 2012 and an entire season in 2013. I’m running on rookie legs.
My next two at-bats don’t go as well. Groundout, K. You don’t dwell on those. You go up there expecting two more hits, even if that’s not how it turns out, because you always expect to get a hit.
In the bottom of the seventh, I come up with the bases loaded. Some players probably think grand slam, something dramatic. I think, It’s my job to get the runners in. How that happens isn’t important. Fielder’s choice. Then an error. Two runs score. You can’t be vain about how the runs get home; you just have to get them there by the force of your own will and commitment to winning.
Things get scary in the top of the ninth. You never like to think in terms of fear, but here we are. We’re up three. David Robertson’s never blown a three-run lead in a save situation. Markakis walks. Adam Jones homers. Someone named Sam or Scotty or Salvador Pearce also homers. Robertson blows a three-run lead. We’re tied.
You’re standing out there on the field, fighting all your feelings. The usual tricks don’t work, the ones you always use to make yourself think you’re not feeling anything. You feel everything. You confront the very real possibility that you are going to leave your last game at Yankee Stadium without a W. You think, Don’t hit it to me right now. I’m too distracted by my emotions and the chants and the outpouring of love from the fans to execute a perfect, final jump throw right now. Then you think, Hit it to me. That’s crazy. I will take two strong steps to my right, scoop up that ball, leap into the air, and fire a strike to first base, getting the runner by half a step.
J.J. Hardy flies out. There is no jump throw.
But there is another at-bat coming. Because I’m up third in the bottom of the ninth. Because of course I am.
Jose Pirela singles. They pinch-run Antoan Richardson, a call-up who’s name I never remembered until tonight. Gardy bunts him over.
I come to the plate with the winning run on second. Because of course I do.
I watch the pitch heading outside, and then I swing at it, and then I watch it shoot into right field. Because of course it does.
I round first, watch Markakis come up throwing home.
I see Richardson slide underneath the catcher. Watch the ump signal “safe.” Because of course he is.
And suddenly I’m floating in the air, arms above my head, watching my teammates pour out of the dugout.
Not just my current teammates. As I work my way through the mob, getting my high-fives and helmet-bumps and one-armed hugs, I see Mo. And Andy. And Jorgie. And Mr. Torre.
Past them, the members of my Outer Dynasty, is the Inner Circle, waiting silently for me. Mr. Gehrig. The Babe. The Mick. The Clipper. And Yogi, who mostly ignores us because he’s still busy eating Series rings from his bag. But one by one they tip their caps to me. Maybe the Babe gives me the finger; it’s not important how he lifts his brim, just that he does it. I tip mine back to each of them.
And one by one, they disappear. Off to the Pinstripe Infinity.
Yogi’s gone, but his voice is in my head. Words I never wanted to hear, but which I’m now ready for.
The field is suddenly clear. It’s just me and 50,000 fans, chanting my name, louder than they’ve ever been.
I walk out to short.
I crouch there. I take in the view for one last time.
I start to dig a hole with my cleat. I’ve said before I’m going to be buried in that spot. I’ve had the vision of being dead and watching nearly this exact scene unfold before me.
But I realize I’m not dead.
I’m very much still alive.
I stop digging the hole.
I walk off the field.
Down the dugout steps.
Underneath the DiMaggio sign.
I thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee. A Yankee Captain.
And for getting me that last W.
I would’ve kept digging the grave and jumped right in if that game hadn’t worked out so well.
Friday, September 26: at Boston Red Sox
I say I’m only going to DH in Boston, but I take the whole night off.
And it’s only now the adrenaline starts to fade and I remember the meeting before yesterday’s game. Girardi rips into everybody for the way the season turned out. Calls out guys for not being hungry enough, for not being in good enough shape, for not finishing the only job that matters: winning the Series. We all recognize that the year was a failure, as are all seasons that don’t end in a championship. It’s the Yankee Way. We’ve only had 27 seasons that ended in a parade down the Canyon of Heroes Who Did Their Only Job instead of in total misery.
Last night was special in its own way, but I’ll always regret that I wasn’t able to lead us to a 28th title and get a sixth ring. I’ll feel that pain every time I look at the retirement gifts the guys gave me right after Girardi’s speech. I suppose I could give them all away and avoid the memory. But I won’t. I’m going to put them in the 2014 room in the Motivation Wing of my house, right next to the 2001 and 2003 rooms, which are empty other than specially commissioned bronze statues of Luis Gonzalez and Jeff Weaver. I’ll visit those gifts whenever I need to remember how hard I need to work in this next phase of my life to continue to have the kind of incredible success I’m used to. Maybe I’ll even wear the watch to work. I’ll pull out the fob so the hour, minute, and second hands stop moving and form a tiny W.
It’s always going to be winning o’clock at Jeter Publishing.
Saturday, September 27: at Boston Red Sox
I DH for the first time without a fight. Get an infield hit. Maybe my last hit at Fenway. OK. It’s a bit of a comedown from Thursday. But that was inevitable. I’m not really here to make any new memories. I’ve had plenty in Boston over the years, mostly involving being suddenly transported to a new hotel by armored SUV after the Sons of Sam Horn published where we were staying and which hardware store would offer a special discount on bricks if they mentioned the code word “Fucky Dent.”
You wonder what they have waiting tomorrow. It’s their last chance with me.
Sunday, September 28: at Boston Red Sox
The Sox put on a surprisingly touching ceremony. Shockingly touching. They give me pinstriped duck boots and a base with my number on it. Papi and Pedroia present me with a piece of the Monster that spells out RE2PECT in scoreboard tiles. An Aretha look-alike serenades me with “Respect,” even going so far as to change the lyrics to “Ar ee TWO pee ee cee tee. Find out what TWO means to me.” A number of whatever Boston’s incorrect versions of captains are, from Varitek to Bobby Orr, come out to wish me well in retirement. Joe Kelly takes a selfie with me. No Jumbotron loop of 2004 highlights, or every error of my career, or a montage of my alleged famous girlfriends, or my parents’ home address. It’s by far the longest tribute I’ve had on the road this season.
And it’s all wrong.
I came up here to play out of respect for the rivalry.
But now I worry that the rivalry’s dead for good.
And I may have killed it. With RE2PECT.
I get another hustle infield single, a chopper off the plate, in the third inning. I look over to the dugout and Girardi gives me the signal. In or out?
I slash a hand across my throat.
And that’s it.
Fenway chants my name as I walk off the field for the last time.
Ending my career in Boston.
To the unsettling cheers of my enemies, who have nothing left to play for.
I chuckle to myself as I realize:
I tip my cap to him, wherever he is.
The guy plans ahead.
Monday, September 29 : First day of retirement
When I get back to my place in New York, A-Rod’s waiting for me in the foyer.
He’s smiling a little too much.
“I got you a retirement present.”
“I’ve got all the presents I need, Alex. Enough for a lifetime.”
“Come to the living room and I’ll show you.”
I follow him to the other room.
There’s a bound and gagged man face down on my couch. His rumpled suit seems expensive.
“Or I should say I got us a present.”
A-Rod grabs his arm and flips him over so I can get a better look.
It’s the Commissioner. He shrugs as if to say hello.
“How did you even get him here?”
“He has a walk-in humidor. Cigar-drobe, Jetes. Easy peasy, Cohiba squeezy.”
“And what are you doing with him?”
“I figured if you can’t make me Captain, he can.”
“He can’t do that, Alex. I’ve told you, that’s not how it works.”
“He’s the Commissioner, he can do anything. Even suspend the greatest player in the history of the game for an entire year for no reason and with no evidence.”
“You have to untie him and let him go. He can’t help you become Captain.”
“That’s a bummer, Jetes. I guess he lied to me when I told him I might also need his legs for next season.”
“Again with the legs.”
“They won’t let me play with my mighty haunches, Jetes. Performance-enhancers. Has to be done. You still out on the legs plan?”
“You’re never getting my legs.”
“Then I suppose I’ll have to make do with Mr. Bud. He probably didn’t use them much, I bet they’ll hold up great.”
Selig shrugs. He seems strangely calm for someone who’s been abducted by a centaur.
“Would you like to come to the dehaunchening? Right through the drobe, quick trip to the amphitheater. I fixed the handle you broke last week, by the way. No charge for the labor.”
“I’m going to have to pass. I have a lot of meetings lined up at the new job.”
“You’ve been retired less than one day. I worry you’re a workaholic, Jetes.”
“It’s just a work ethic, not a disease.”
“We have that in common. Which is why I’m going to make the best Yankee Captain that ever was.”
“You’re not going to be Captain, Alex. I feel like I need you to understand that before you go through the trouble of this legs thing.”
“Have you seen that team? It’s in dire need of leadership.”
“I thought I did OK.”
“If you did OK, wouldn’t you be playing tomorrow?”
“That’s not fair. We had a lot of injuries.”
“I’m the kind of Captain who’s not going to make excuses, Jetes. I’m just going to go out there every day and win.”
“I’m too tired to argue in circles with you about this. I’m going to untie the Commissioner and get on with my life.”
“Be my guest, Jetes. We are all beings of free will here. Even Mr. Bud. They teach you that inside the wardrobe.”
“Then why is he gagged?”
“He’s kind of a dick, Jetes.”
I loosen Selig’s gag.
“Captain. Having ruined your Final Season, I, too, am staring into the endless Void of Retirement. And in that Void I see no Purpose. Perhaps I shall find one inside the war-drobe.”
“He’s going to take your legs. You realize that.”
“I have been promised Haunches of my own in trade. Who among us would not trade this Decrepit Shell for new Perfection?”
“Then I wish you Luck as you Fumble aimlessly through a life without Wins. You may now replace my Gag.”
I re-gag him. I don’t need his negativity on my first day without baseball.
“I’m going for a walk. Both of you better be gone by the time I get back.”
“You got it, Jetes.”
“Oh, and Jetes?”
“Can I wear no. 2 next year?”
“If it’s available, sure.”
“I’ve never much liked 13.”
“I always felt it suited you.”
“I’m going to make you so proud of me when I Captain us to the Series.”
“No one will be cheering louder than me.”
“That means a lot, Jetes.”
“I’m going to go now.”
“Gone when I get back.”
Alex nods. Those blue eyes of his flicker with sadness, but just for a moment. You can see he’s already trying on his no. 2 jersey in his head.
I look over at Selig, giving him one last chance to change his mind. He shrugs at me again.
So I leave.
Moments later I’m out on the sidewalk, Yankee cap tucked down over my eyes. I walk the streets of the greatest city in the world for what seems like hours. Nobody stops me. It’s suddenly like a new place when you have nowhere you need to be.
When I get back home, A-Rod and the Commissioner are gone.
The wardobe in the bedroom is gone.
And so is my framed 1996 World Champions jersey that hung on the wall beside it.
I settle into bed and turn on the TV.
There’s no baseball on.
So I pick up my diary, thumb through it for a minute, and place it down again.
There will be plenty of time to write later.
Nothing but time.