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.
Tuesday, June 19: vs. Atlanta
I know that it’s been a long time since I’ve shared my diary entries with you, but trust me, there was a very good reason. Actually, it’s not like I’ve been withholding them, I haven’t even been writing for the past 10 days or so. You may assume the fatigue of the long season or the difficulty of digging deep within oneself to fearlessly and unselfconsciously commit one’s feelings to a journal was the reason for this brief absence, but you’d be wrong. You know how that saying goes. “Don’t assume, because it makes an ass out of someone who doesn’t put in the time and thoughtfulness to figure out what’s really going on.” I’ve always felt that’s a very profound saying, and you never want to be the ass in any given situation. You generally want to be the head part when given the choice. Anyway, I’ve been away from the diary because of our 10-game winning streak, which you probably know ended tonight. Let me explain.
I’m not the superstitious type. Some ballplayers have their rituals. Wade Boggs used to eat his chicken before each game, Roger Clemens had the trainers apply crazy-hot liniment to his testicles before he’d smash a dozen Mike Piazza bobbleheads with one of those Whac-a-Mole hammers, and Boonie Logan likes to jump rope while wearing nothing but an oversize pair of Tickle Me Elmo slippers. Everyone has their thing. My only ritual is being as prepared as possible to win every day. You can call that superstition if you want, I just call it leading by the example of a total commitment to excellence. But before the first game of our interleague series with the Mets back on June 8, I was walking through the hallway to the clubhouse and an old gypsy lady appeared out of nowhere, grabbed my forearm, and said, “Stop writing tonight and I promise you 10 straight wins!” Then, as security swooped in to unclamp her from my arm, she pulled a button off my shirt and ate it. “Ten straight wins! No writing!” she cried, right before the stun guns finally penetrated her many layers of magic robes. First off, there are usually no gypsy ladies, magic or otherwise, roaming the Stadium, so that was pretty unnerving. You’d get a few here and there at the Old Stadium — I think some lived in a kind of squatter community in abandoned subway tunnels beneath the building, but mostly they’d try to sell you cheap inflatable bats and foam fingers and such. (The knockoff kind, not the officially sanctioned merchandise, which was the problem.) But our new place has been 100 percent gypsy-free by design, because you really can’t risk these kinds of encounters on a game day or the lost concession revenue. Second, I use “gypsy” with a small “g” because I’m not referring to any specific ethnic group, I’m just talking about haunted kitchen-witch ladies who tend to cast hexes and eat your buttons when your guard is down. Third, and most important: She was all about winning, so I had to at least hear her out. We’d just dropped a very winnable game to Tampa the night before and I was desperate to get us back on track. What could the harm be to take a little break from writing? A Captain has to make sacrifices for his team, even if it means temporarily denying himself a very psychologically healthy outlet like therapeutic journaling. So I stole a blond hair from our publicist’s head, tied it around the diary — there are rules to this — and hid it behind the giant jar of PowerBars in my locker.
And do you know what happened?
Ten straight wins, that’s what.
But the streak ended tonight. I probably should have haggled for a 15-gamer. You don’t want to be greedy when someone offers you a magical winning streak, but at the same time, you want to get as many games as possible out of it without having to promise to cut off a baby’s toes or something.
Long story short: Streak over, diary back. Another go at the Braves tomorrow.
Wednesday, June 20: vs. Atlanta
People say our offense is too homer-dependent, but what I say is, I usually like our odds when we hit four homers in a game. But I like our odds a lot less when the other team hits five home runs, and when Phil Hughes gives up four of them himself. This is why I hate to DH. When you’re sitting on the bench while your guy’s out on the mound serving up moon shots, it’s much harder to tell him “Don’t worry, that’s gone” when he whips around to see if it’s going to reach the seats, or to just stare him down with the bottomless iciness of your disappointed blue eyes. He’s not going to hear you from the dugout, and he’s definitely not going to make eye contact. When you’re out on the field, you can even stroll up on the mound, give the rubber a couple of kicks and say, “There’s a sick little kid in right field who doesn’t have a souvenir yet, you better get him one before Jesus takes him home.” Yeah, that’s a little dark, but if the idea that a terminally ill child’s life hangs in the balance can’t make a guy realize the importance of keeping his fastball down in the zone, nothing will. The stakes are pretty high when you’re a fly-ball pitcher in a stadium with a jet stream and a short porch, that’s all I’m saying. And I’m not going to talk about the final score. Draw your own conclusions. Five homers, man. Five.
I know that I’ve had some tension with Troy Tulowitzki lately, but you never like to hear that doctors are going to surgically invade someone’s groin area. You hate to say that maybe short’s a little too physically demanding for most people and that a guy should think about a switch to an objectively easier position like third, but when a player can’t seem to stay on the field for any length of time, you’ve got to consider all your options before you lose any more of your productive years. And yeah, if he becomes a third baseman, wearing my number instantly becomes a non-issue. I’m not a mental health professional, but at some point you probably have to consider the possibility that the constant, crippling psychological pressure of living up to the giant “2” on your back is what’s slowly killing your body. It’s more of a working theory than any kind of diagnosis at this point, but you have to start somewhere. Get well quick, Troy.
Thursday, June 21: Off Day
Have you ever noticed how much A.J. Burnett looks like the dirtbag cop from The Killing? I think I read that he’s Swedish, so chances are they’re not actually related, but the resemblance is spooky. If they ever make Balls in the Dirt and Pies in the Face: The A.J. Burnett Story, someone needs to get that guy the script right away. I don’t know why they’d make a movie about A.J. — lots of pitchers can’t hack it in New York, he’s not that special. It’s just a thought. This is what happens when you’ve had a couple of tiny cups of Robitussin for a sore throat and are going through your DVR. For the record, I’ve never dated the sad redhead who wears all the giant sweaters. It’s a pretty well-documented matter of public record that I’m a brunette guy, but I don’t discuss my personal life, especially not in my diary. But great show. Rainy.
Friday, June 22: at Mets
Ours is not a team that needs “bulletin board material” to play to the best of its abilities. The Yankees organization prides itself on bringing together individuals who are professional, self-motivated, and single-mindedly obsessed with winning. So when I tell you that Swish pinned the New York Post‘s “ChickenGate” cover on the wall before the game, it provided us with no extra motivation to beat the Mets. Mostly, it just made me sad, because you hate to see them blow a perfectly good opportunity to Photoshop A-Rod’s head onto a chicken and drive him insane. He’d insist it didn’t bother him, put up an 0-for-5 with a bases-loaded GIDP, and then buy a poultry farm after the game so that he could spend the entire offseason trying to better understand his chicken nature. A Jeter-chicken? That’s a clown abomination, bro. No one’s buying into that. A Jeagle, maybe, or a Jawk, fine. I guess when you’re trying to drum up controversy and sell newspapers, basic plausibility goes out the window.
As much as it hurts me to do so, it would be dishonest not to concede that Frank Francisco did get his save. You’ve got to tip your hat to him — the 10-hour bus rides will really fly by while he’s telling the story to his new teammates on the Puebla Parrots next year.
Saturday, June 23: at Mets
Truth be told, these “natural rival” interleague games with the Mets lost their excitement factor years ago. For the players, they’re just regular contests that count exactly the same in the standings as ones against the Twins, the Indians, or the Mariners. The only thing that separates a trip to Pittsburgh from a trip to Queens is the opportunity to sleep in your own bed. If you win the Subway Series, you don’t get a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes, you get Vinny from Bayonne puking a Shake Shack burger over the visitors’ bullpen wall. A game is a game is a game if it’s not happening in the Bronx, in Boston, or in October.
That being said: Eat a chicken-dick, Frank Frank.
Sunday, June 24: at Mets
R.I.P., R.A. Dickey’s 42-inning no-earned-run streak. He seems like a nice guy and it was a great story, so you almost feel bad about it. I mean, you don’t really, your job is to go out there and win, and if that means crushing some guy’s dreams, so be it.
You have mixed feelings about knuckleballers. On the one hand, it’s kind of cool that players who can’t actually throw fastballs learn this ancient trick, passed down from generation to generation of failed pitchers, and get to have a career in the big leagues. (I assume there’s some ritual involving a bunch of Knuckleball Masters in purple robes, like Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough, digging their fingernails into some old fruit and throwing it at blindfolded young guys with weak arms, who are then taught the secret of the grip.) On the other hand, a knuckleball is basically cheating. A baseball isn’t meant to move around in weird directions like that. It’s supposed to spin and follow a predictable arc. There might not be a literal rule about a baseball needing to spin, but there are the rules of physics to think about. Yeah, now you’re going to tell me that physics is why the knuckleball does what it does, but I’m talking about the other kind of physics, the kind that makes hanging sliders fun to hit. No one likes to hit knuckleballs. I’m not saying we should ban them, I’m just saying we’ll see what happens at the next Players Association meeting. Stay tuned.
Monday, June 25: vs. Cleveland
People are talking about Kevin Youkilis like he’s dead. He’s not dead. Yes, the only team he’s ever played for treated him like he died right there on the field, scooping up his bones and shipping them off to Chicago, but he’s not literally dead. I’m sure he’ll do great there, hobbling around third like he’s 32 again, getting a fresh start at smashing up a new set of water coolers. Maybe their hitting coach will finally teach him how to hold his bat properly. I don’t know why the Red Sox never taught him that, it always seemed like a really obvious fix to me. Hold your hands together, boom, you’re a .300 hitter again. We’ll work on the weird foot placement tomorrow.
But stories like this just make you appreciate your own situation. It’s just great to know that no matter how old I get, no matter how many steps I lose, I can always play shortstop for the New York Yankees. It’s all up to me. I’m not going to lie, it feels good to know that. I may even choose to be buried in the 6 hole. That’s my contractual prerogative. I’m probably not going to use it, because I’ve already set up a pretty amazing cryogenic chamber at my place in Tampa — it’s even got a mini-Starbucks in there so fans can get a drink while they’re visiting me as I wait for baseball science to restore me to my 1999 prime — but it’s nice to know that’s a call I get to make. When you’ve got a really good agent and owners who support you unquestioningly, you’re really blessed.
Tuesday, June 26: vs. Cleveland
Look, my birthday is not important. Some guys are obsessed about their ages, mostly players from the Dominican Republic who are worried someone’s going to find their real birth certificates and figure out they’re already in their late 30s. But age is just a state of mind, and 38 is just the number between 37 and 39. You don’t go out there trying to get older, you just show up for life and take it one day at a time, and at the end of your career the numbers will be there, you can’t worry about that. When you’re always in the moment, you’re basically just a baby, but with an incredible accumulation of life experiences, championships, and wealth. There’s an entire room in my Manhattan place that’s nothing but giant photographs of chubby, blue-eyed infants in Yankees hats. It’s a nice reminder to always approach the day like you’re the world’s luckiest baby. And I am. I never forget that.