Friday, June 27, 2014

Happy 40th Mr. November: A Few Things Worth Knowing about Derek Jeter

I never thought this day would come, and thanks to the PGA, I can buy a little more time. But, I'm at the age where very few professional athletes are my age, or older. The great American poet, Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Old age comes on suddenly, and not gradually as is thought” And celebrating the great Derek Jeter's 40th birthday, just yesterday reminded me of that truth.
June 26, 1974. 40 years young...
Many would scoff at the idea of 40 as old age, but for those of us recently doing what we can to accept the new number, it's hard to deny it feels otherwise. Indeed, it's a milestone. I have yet to type in those digits when the treadmill at my gym asks me. Height and weight? No problem. My age? Not a chance. However, 40 has also ushered in the invitation to reflect back upon all the graces in my life, accomplishments and personal growth and it has harkened me to look ahead to what is next. I don't doubt it's any different for "Captain Clutch" as he bids farewell to Major League baseball this season.

I'm not a big Yankee fan but I do love baseball; it's hard to deny the professionalism, class, and gifts Jeter has brought to it all. In that spirit, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on what any sports fan can and ought to appreciate about Number 2.
"The Captain"
Elected in 2003, Jeter has the longest tenure as captain of any New York Yankee. Considering the legends that have worn those pinstripes, this is that says a lot. 

I once found myself in the middle of a very spirited debate about the need for captains in organized sports. I couldn't believe that so many athletic directors and coaches held passionate views against what I consider a key leadership role.

Part of what fueled my support for captains is that in times of real challenge or strife, we need peer to peer support. Captains are the go-to source to take action. No where was this more evident than among the Yankees in the aftermath of 9/11. The video "Nine Innings from Ground Zero" chronicles the role that baseball played in re-stabilizing a community in mourning, in offering people a place to gather and a temporary escape from the necessary work among wreckage, and more. 

The role Jeter played is incredible. To say he must have been very uncomfortable at times is an understatement. He had to have asked himself "I'm supposed to make this better?!" But he showed up at firehouses and the armory. He called a young girl whose father was the pilot on Flight 93. He even met the President in the bowels of Yankee Stadium and urged him to throw a strike, from the mound. And of course, what he did on the diamond leads to...
Why He's Mr. November
For those of you who do know, I envy that your guy did what he did, when he did. And if you don't know, please stop reading right now and get your hands on any video clip that demonstrates how he earned this nickname (again "Nine Innings from Ground Zero says it well)

Remember, the Yankees already had a "Mr. October" in Reggie Jackson. But here's a clue. Since baseball was delayed after the events of 9/11, the World Series games were played in the month of November.... simply magic.

Jeter doesn't speak Spanish
Evidently, baseball players who don't know otherwise come up to Jeter all the time and start speaking in Spanish to him. Because of his skin tone, people often think he's from the Dominican Republic, like many other players in MLB. Not exactly..

Jeter was born in to Pequannock Township, New Jersey to Sanderson Charles Jeter, Ph.D. who is African American and Dorothy (nee Connors) who is of Irish and German descent. Maybe all races, creeds and cultures want a hold on him. I certainly see this in Michigan fans. In 1978, the Jeters moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Although he was recruited to play baseball for the Wolverines, he went pro right out of high school.

His contract
I'm not talking about the one Jeter's agent acquired for him that kept him with the Yankees for his entire career. No, I'm talking about the contract that Jeter's parents had him sign growing up. I would like to know when he first signed it, but every year Jeter signed off on what was acceptable and unacceptable forms of  behavior. I think it's brilliant.

We all do better when we know what those we love and respect expect of us, value and appreciate. Seems to me a contract sends that message loud and clear....and that it paid off!
There's only one #2
His Career
I'm not a huge Rick Reilly fan, but I love his piece "Jeter State of Mind." This fictional letter to Jeter's future children notes how incredible and unique his career has been. Reilly writes

He was the best player in baseball for a good 10 years straight and yet he never won a batting title, never won an MVP, never was the highest-paid player in the game. The only thing he did better than anybody else was excel: five rings, 13 All-Star games, the greatest New York Yankee since Mickey Mantle.
We've heard time and again that "age is just a number," but as far as I'm concerned, age...and numbers DO matter. We celebrated Jeter's 3,000 hits. When they retire his number, #2, I'm not sure any single digit numbers will be available for future New York Yankees. We'll look back on all he did and numbers will play their part when he was 18, 30 and 40. This fall, when we bid farewell to this baseball great, it will be hard to deny there are many great players in baseball, but there's only one Derek Jeter. Happy 40th my man. Welcome to the club.

Photo Credits
Jeter State of Mind
One Jeter

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