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.
Monday, April 14: Off Day
Tuesday, April 15: Home Rainout
There’s nothing worse than two consecutive days without games during the season, which almost never happens. An off day followed by a rainout feels especially cruel when it’s your final season and every remaining day of baseball is even more precious. It’s like you’ve got this suddenly limited supply of W’s that are being handed out, one by one, and you don’t know exactly how many W’s are in your pile; all you know is they will definitely run out at some point relatively soon. You hope there’s enough to hold you over through mid-October. And that you’re going to get that last W of the season. That championship W. The one that comes with the trophy and the parade and the ring. But you can’t know for sure when that last W is coming. Not yet. It’s still way off in the distance. All you can do is show up ready to play every day and play as hard as you can until it’s all over. For good this time. You never used to take rainouts this hard. That’s an interesting breakthrough to have in your diary. The journaling coach always tells you to just write until something happens. He’s usually correct about these things. It gets annoying, truth be told. He’s not the boss of my epiphanies.
The game is postponed early, before anyone’s left for warmups, but I go to the Stadium anyway. Spending a day back at the apartment feels like a waste of that precious time. What are you going to do, stare at the rain through the window? Watch highlights of other team’s games? So I head to the Bronx, get in through the secret Captain’s Entrance — which I never use, because I come and go with the rest of the team; a Captain is no better than any other player, even if he has a hidden way into the ballpark that only he can use — and spend some time in the dark clubhouse. It’s strange to see the locker room that way. Quiet. Usually you’ve got Jorgie strapping on his pads, or Pettitte running a prayer circle, or Mo teaching one of the bullpen kids a new grip. Well, not anymore. It’s still weird that they’re not around all the time. Now it’s McCann with the pads. Tanaka playing with grips. Yangervis Solarte taking selfies with everyone because he’s afraid every game is his last. That’s not turning into another personal epiphany. That’s just a sensible fear for a 26-year-old rookie who might stop hitting any minute and never get back here.
I take a walk out to Monument Park in the rain. I want to spend a few minutes looking at the plaques. Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Scooter Rizzuto, all the greats. Even Mo now. I stop in front of his plaque and notice something strange. There’s another new plaque next to his.
And it has my face on it. Which is crazy, because I am not retired. And even then, maybe you don’t get a plaque, you’re not the type to make assumptions like that, it’s a thing that’s totally out of your hands. So I lean in and notice it’s not a very flattering likeness. But definitely me. I read the inscription. It says:
DEREK SANDERSON JETER
RAN AFOUL OF A.H. SELIG, GREATEST BASE-BALL COMMISSIONER IN THE HISTORY OF OUR HUMBLE GAME
DIED ON THE FIELD DURING THE TIE-BREAK FOR THE 2014 WILD-CARD TO THE RED STOCKINGS OF BOSTON
A LONG-AGO CHAMPION NEVER AGAIN TO TASTE THE PLAY-OFFS
OR KNOW THE JOY OF THE FAMILY HE NEVER GOT TO HAVE
OVER-RATED IN THE FIELD AS WELL
I reach out and touch the plaque. It dissolves in my hand. The rain washes all traces away.
Did I imagine it? Dream it?
I can’t worry about that now. There’s a doubleheader tomorrow.
Wednesday, April 16: vs. Chicago Cubs (doubleheader)
A two-W day. Two shutouts from two new pitchers. You can’t script it any better.
Well, you could. I sat out the first game because Girardi’s being overprotective about my playing time. But Tanaka struck out 10. He gave up only two hits in eight innings. Both bunt singles. You could point to the unwritten rules and get bent out of shape that they were only bunting their way on against him, but he didn’t seem bothered by it. Maybe they have different unwritten rules in Japan because somebody mistranslated the unwritten rulebook when they brought over baseball from America. Maybe cheap bunt hits are a sign of respect over there, you don’t know. You just have to respect cultural differences you don’t understand and don’t really care to learn about.
In the second game, Pineda dominated without any accusations of using pine tar on his pitching hand. As Captain, when you have a situation like that, it’s your responsibility to handle it. So you pull the player aside and you tell him that no matter how many guys on other teams, even your biggest rivals, you’ve seen smear things on baseballs, that you just have to be better than that. No pine tar, no sunscreen, no mix of rosin and pomade that makes your hair look like a greasy drowned weasel. You’re playing for an organization that is always under more intense scrutiny because of its unbroken tradition of sportsmanship and excellence. You can’t disrespect the pinstripes by taking the shortcuts everyone else is taking.
And he heard me and dumped out his entire bucket of tar while I watched. It’s always a special moment when you can influence a young player like that. You can change the course of a career in a single moment. Even if he ends the conversation by saying, “I don’t need this junk to beat the Cubs.”
Thursday, April 17: at Tampa Bay Rays
The only important thing is that we were able to get the win, because those are always hard to come by at Tropicana Field, which barely meets the minimum requirements of being a baseball stadium. They’ve even started to sell fans catwalk seats and changed the ground rules so that any ball they catch is an out. You hate to see an organization mess with the game like that, no matter how hard it is to for them to move tickets. Abner Doubleday definitely didn’t have civilian catwalk fielders in mind when he invented the sport.
Win or not, it’s a little troubling we had to call up Scott Sizemore from the minors and start him at first with Tex still out. That’s our fifth first baseman of the season. He’s never played first before. Neither have I. They haven’t asked me. If they did, I’d play there without complaint. Maybe you drop an offhand comment to Girardi or Cashman like, “Maybe we could’ve planned for a backup first baseman in the offseason? Your shortstop of 19 seasons is playing first now, seems like a strange thing to happen,” but you take the field wherever they tell you. It’s not your job to dictate where you play, it’s your job to play out of position because somebody in management couldn’t imagine a world in which Mark Teixeira might pull a hammy.
Sunday, April 20: at Tampa Bay Rays
A big win in extra innings. All regular-season wins are equal, because you need at least 90 of them most years to get to the games that actually matter, but this one felt good because we completely fell apart the last two games. It got ugly. Eleven runs allowed Friday, 16 runs allowed yesterday, total pitching meltdowns. And it gets worse because Nova’s hurt, probably going for Tommy John soon. It’s a shame when one of your young guys goes down like that. You hate to blame the way coaches handle young pitchers these days, babying them instead of letting them build up their arms with high pitch counts, but this is what keeps happening. Everybody’s getting that surgery all of a sudden. You look at a guy like Tanaka, who threw 280 pitches per game in Japan since fifth grade, and he seems fine. He’ll probably pitch forever, like Kuroda, who’s still pretty productive into his late fifties. This feels like the one area where maybe we shouldn’t think we have all the answers. Your heart breaks that the kid won’t be around for the Series this year. He’s going to miss some great experiences.
Monday, April 21: Off Day
Home at the Tampa house before the trip up to Boston for a big series with the Sox. I try to sleep in, but I’m awakened by a thumping at the wardrobe. I ignore it for a while, but it gets so loud that I have no choice but to get out of bed and open it.
“Good morning, Jetes.”
“How did you get here?”
“Wardrobe travel. That’s kind of the whole point. May I leave the wardrobe now and enter the two-legged world?”
“Do I need to grant you permission?”
“Not really. It’s just common courtesy, Jetes. May I leave the wardrobe now and enter the two-legged world?”
“Do whatever you want.”
He steps out of the wardrobe and into the bedroom. You’d never admit it to him, but his strides are sort of majestic. The centaur form really agrees with him.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in my alone time.”
“It gets awfully lonely in the wardrobe when you’re gone, Jetes.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe you can work on your game for next year.”
“Don’t be silly. They won’t let me play like this. I’ll have to devolve first. I know that now.”
“Right, Jetes. Revert to an inferior state.”
“That’s too bad.”
“But that’s not what I need to ask you.”
“What do you need to ask me, Alex?”
“I’d like to travel with you all year. I don’t want to miss your farewell tour. It’s really special, Jetes.”
“Well, you can’t travel with me.”
“All you have to do is make sure all your hotel rooms have wardrobes. It’s really easy, Jetes.”
“I don’t think I’m going to do that, Alex.”
“At least think about it.”
“OK. Maybe I’ll think about it.”
“It’s going to be really special, Jetes.”
“One more thing?”
“Will you brush my tail? I’d really like it if you’d brush my tail.”
“Absolutely not, Alex.”
“It gets knots if it’s not properly brushed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“At least think about it.”
“I’ll take a rain check on the brushing, Jetes. Thanks so much.”
I excuse myself to the bathroom. When I return, A-Rod is gone and the wardrobe doors are closed.
But there’s a solid-gold brush laying on the bed. I turn it over. The initials A.R. are encrusted in diamonds.
It’s a very nice brush.
Tuesday, April 22: at Boston
There’s nothing worse than a day without baseball, but there’s nothing better than going into Fenway and beating the Red Sox with their ace on the mound, in front of a crowd that knows it’s one of their last chances to workshop some new insults. But you savor them anyway, even the ones that are a little too sexually graphic and involve actresses you’ve forgotten you were ever involved with, because you know there aren’t going to be many more games here, even if it will probably be your destiny to play a Game 7 of the ALCS on this same field, on a cold and rainy night like this one. The atmosphere’s still electric, even if the fans have gotten a bit spoiled by their recent run of good luck. It used to be a lot of frustration and anger coming at you when you were standing in the on-deck circle, but now you get a bunch of people asking you to polish their rings with parts of your body you don’t even want to mention in your diary. You’re not even sure how that would work, because those body parts are not usually associated with cleanliness.
After the game, I ask Ellsbury what it’s like to be back in Boston. But he was too distracted by his old Sox jersey floating in the open septic pit in the middle of the visitor’s clubhouse to answer. I still remember the look on Rocket’s face when they did that to him. He was not happy. But Ellsy just excused himself and threw up quietly in Preston Claiborne’s cleats. It takes some guys a couple of games before they adjust to being on the correct side of the rivalry.
I expect my locker to be buried under a mound of signed Pedroia baseballs, or Mike Napoli’s beard shavings. Instead there’s a nicely wrapped package waiting there for me. I rip it open. It’s a miniature version of the plaque I saw in Monument Park. There’s a note attached.
You did not Dream this.
I am watching always.
Enjoy this small Gift.
I wrap it in a sock and toss it into the septic pit.
There’s no time to be distracted by supervillain trash talk.
We have two more games to win here before the weekend.