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.
Wednesday, July 2: vs. Tampa Bay Rays
At some point you stop calling the problem “offensive struggles” and start calling it “the offense.” You see what you actually have and stop dreaming about what could or should be. With the All-Star break so close, it’s important to assess the team as it is. You have to take an objective eye to it. You have to be a realist. There’s no more “maybe he’ll come around” or “he’s just been unlucky, the hits will start to fall.” Sure, you’ll say that to the media after another disappointing game with the bats, because you never air your laundry in public; you’re a ballplayer, not a dry cleaner. But you have to know by now that maybe he’s not ever coming all the way around. Maybe the hits aren’t going to fall. Maybe we’re going to have to make do with what we have and win a little ugly. Not that there’s such a thing as an “ugly win.” Every win is beautiful in its own way. There’s nothing more beautiful than a scoreboard with a larger number next to your team’s name than the other team’s name at the end of game, except that same scoreboard flashing WORLD CHAMPIONS on it in October.
As Captain, sometimes you have to express uncomfortable truths to your team about the way things are going. Sometimes you’ve got to lock your manager in his office, close the clubhouse doors, and have a players-only meeting. Even if you’ve always been more of a lead-by-example guy than a rousing-speech guy, there are ways to get your point across. Like having the clubbies and batboys gather up one game-used bat from each player, arrange them in a traditional bonfire setup, and stand by with extinguishers and asbestos blankets as you light a match and set the whole thing on fire.
You don’t need empty words. You need powerful symbolism. And a locker room full of burning bats is a pretty powerful symbol. You go home thinking about an image like that. You go home with your street clothes smelling of that smoke. You go home knowing that you have to come back tomorrow ready to start hitting.
And when you pick up a new bat the next day, you can almost feel it catching fire in your hands.
Is it all a little dramatic? Possibly. But scoring one or two or three runs every game is a pretty dramatic problem.
I’m also prepared to start burning baseballs the days before the rookies pitch. There are suddenly a lot of areas to address.
Thursday, July 3: at Minnesota Twins
Tanaka on the mound. Not his sharpest game, but more than enough to get the job done when the offense puts up a seven-spot.
Beltran hits one out, looks over at me, and gives me the fire-fingers.
The new kid just up from Scranton, Zelous Wheeler, homers in his first major league game and does the same thing. Fire-fingers.
Betances strikes out two in an inning. Robby strikes out the side for the save. Fire-fingers from both.
Was it the burning bats? Or was it Phil Hughes remembering that giving up long balls is kind of his specialty?
It doesn’t matter. Not one bit. Only the winning part matters.
That’s true even if the fire-fingers thing really starts catching on and we have to make some cool T-shirts to keep it going. You don’t want to be burning bats every day, that’s just wasteful. A lot of craftsmanship goes into them, even the ones you have to torch.
Friday, July 4: at Minnesota Twins
It’s the Fourth of July.
But it’s also the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous speech. You’re a shortstop, not a historian, but you’d have to say it’s the single most inspiring moment in the history of speeches. Even better than “nothing to fear but fear itself,” or President Kennedy in front of the Berlin Wall, or even Mo’s retirement speech last year, which was also incredibly moving and important.
There’s not a day I don’t think about Mr. Gehrig’s words echoing around the Stadium. The luckiest man on the face of the Earth.
There’s also not a day I don’t think I’m actually the luckiest man on the face of the Earth. It’s not that he was wrong. This isn’t a contest about determining which Yankee Captain was the luckier one, though you might be inclined to lean my way because I’m fortunate enough to be retiring with my health. But I think about the speech I’m going to have to give on the new Stadium infield after we complete a second-half push that ends in a world championship in my last major league baseball game. There’s no way my speech will be better than Mr. Gehrig’s, but whatever words I ultimately say will be no less heartfelt. I know how blessed I’ve been to play for this organization. I know how blessed I’ve been to win all of these championships in New York. I know how blessed I’ve been to wear this uniform with the 2 on the back and the invisible C above the heart. I know how blessed I’ve been to play in front of the best fans in the world. I know how blessed I’ve been to have every single one of my baseball dreams come true.
That’s a lot of blesseds.
Maybe I’ll wind up going with “Today I consider myself the most blessed man on the face of the Earth” and own that instead of “luck,” which really doesn’t get at the heart of my situation, once you really think about it.
Thank you, Mr. Gehrig. You can’t read those words in my diary, but I know that wherever you are in the Pinstripe Forever, you can hear them and know I appreciate all you’ve done for every Yankee. Stay lucky.
Saturday, July 5: at Minnesota Twins
The Twins give me second base.
Second base from the last game ever played at the old Metrodome.
Second base from the ALDS game in which we eliminated the Twins from the playoffs on the way to winning the Series in ’09.
That’s a real gift. A meaningful gift. One that’s quite possibly going to find a place of honor in Retirement Gift Gallery Alpha in the Tampa house. It’s that touching of a gesture.
You have to tip your hat to an organization that’s not afraid to recognize its own failure in celebrating someone else’s success. Class all around in Minnesota. I’m going to miss winning here.
Sunday, July 6: at Minnesota Twins
It’s a tough day. The front office let Alfonso Soriano go. He’s like family to me. A brother. He came up a Yankee and played beside me in the Series in ’01 and ’03. That’s not as strong a bond as the ones you build in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009, but it’s a special one nonetheless, especially because he didn’t leave us by choice when they traded him for A-Rod. This season hasn’t been his best, but he’s had a great career and should feel proud about that, whether he decides to keep playing or to retire. You’d never suggest that a guy hang up his spikes before he feels ready, but retiring a Yankee seems like the way to go. It’s much more dignified than being a Red Sox waiver claim. You wish him the best.
There were other changes to the team. You never listen to the trade whispers, because what’s going to happen will happen regardless of paying attention to every rumor, but you knew we were going to make a move for a starter before the deadline, and we did. Brandon McCarthy is on his way from Arizona. They tell me he’s great on Twitter, but I’m not on Twitter, and we didn’t trade for a social media coordinator — I think Teixeira already runs our Twitter and Facebook accounts. All I care about is if he can help us win. Cashman tells me he can, that his peripherals are solid and he’s outperformed his numbers. Again, the only number I care about is the one in the win column. I hope when all is said and done he’s got 15 to 20 W’s in that column and a ring. I hope he takes the ball in his first start next week and tries to earn his pinstripes right away. You can’t get them that fast, especially in a game before the All-Star break, but he probably doesn’t know that. You want guys out there thinking every game’s the one where they finally get pinstriped. It’s important to set goals that may or may not be impossible to achieve in a specific time frame. It keeps you sharp.
Monday, July 7: at Cleveland Indians
“I’m in here, Jetes.”
The voice is coming from the hotel bathroom the minute I walk in the door. I go in and A-Rod is standing in the shower.
“Can you hand me all the towels? The glass door on this wet wardrobe is very immodest.”
“You don’t ever wear clothes anymore, Alex.”
“I feel naked in here, Jetes. I need to cover up the haunches.”
I hand him a pile of towels. He carefully drapes them over his hindquarters.
“That’s much better. Very plush linens. Nice hotel.”
“Would you also like a robe?”
“I would like that very much.”
“I’m not getting you a robe.”
“Fine. And maybe now I’m no longer feeling like congratulating you on your All-Star selection.”
“It’s an honor to be selected, regardless. It’s humbling.”
“You don’t have to be humble here, Jetes.”
“It’s how I feel. Each one is special. Especially this year.”
“You know what else is special? I also made the All-Star team.”
“You’re suspended all year, Alex.”
“I’m not suspended from the All-Drobe team. Leading vote-getter at shortstop, Jetes. I’m back at short, by the way.”
“Surprisingly tight race with the faun in second place. He’s a gamer.”
“Then I’m glad you pulled it out.”
“Thanks, Jetes. Very special. Are you worried that you won the start because Selig is setting a trap?”
“No, it hadn’t occurred to me.”
“He said he was going to stop you from winning. And then you won.”
“I guess he didn’t burn enough votes.”
“It’s a trap, Jetes. The old man has murder in his heart.”
“You can’t worry about stuff that’s out of your control. You just have to go out there and play the game.”
“Just be careful next week. I want you to stay safe.”
“Can I have the robe now?”
“How about a nice washcloth, Jetes? As long as I’m here, I might as well swab some parts.”
I toss a washcloth into the shower stall. He misses it and it falls to the floor.
I leave the bathroom and close the door behind me before he can ask me to pick it up.
Tuesday, July 8: at Cleveland Indians
Tanaka has a pretty rough start. Second bad outing in a row. Weird for him.
But everyone has bad games, even guys who have seemed pretty much perfect up until this week.
It’s probably nothing.
Wednesday, July 9: at Cleveland Indians
I’m doing my stretches in the outfield before the game when a giant crow lands in the grass between my legs. It stands there staring at me for a few seconds before suddenly convulsing in pain. No one seems to notice.
The crow opens its beak and coughs up the end of a scroll. It squawks at me until I grab the scroll and pull it free from its gullet. The bird immediately flies away.
I have conceded the All Star’s Game.
The Conflagration of your ballots was satisfying but a waste of my Time.
Enjoy your meaningless Honor at the behest of Fools.
But it comes at a steep Price.
I have Hobbled the pitcher from Japan.
He will not be joining you for the Game.
And perhaps for the rest of your Final Season.
Will he be spared the Knife? Will I take his Elbow?
As you read these words, a Helpless cur, he idles inside a magic Tube in New York.
Alone and pondering his Fate.
Commissioner of the Base-Ball
Post Script: Look behind you.
I look behind me.
There’s a second crow.
It coughs up tonight’s lineup card.
I could swear the bird is laughing at me as I read it.