Derek Jeter-the Yankees shortstop who isn't short on talent, looks, or heart.
Though he's only 24, many of his teammates describe Derek Jeter as a baseball player with maturity beyond his years. His awesome skills on the playing field have earned him an American League Rookie of the Year award and helped the Yankees to two World Series championships in three years. Jeter is rapidly making a name for himself as one of today's hottest young athletes. Baseball fans can't get enough of the graceful Yankees shortstop who wows them with his power and speed. Women are mesmerized by his hear-stopping good looks-he was even named on of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people in the world! Read all about this down-to-earth superstar, from his childhood in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where his dream of playing for the Yankees began, to his life today, his charity work, his hopes for the future, and why he told GQ magazine, "I have the greatest job in the world."
With eight pages of cool photos!
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||547 KB|
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Derek Jeter: Pride of the Yankees
An Unauthorized Biography
By Patrick Giles
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1998 Patrick Giles
All rights reserved.
"Is that him? Derek! It IS? DEREK! Derek? ..."
What's amazing when you first actually see Derek Jeter is how well he handles all of this — the attention, the idolatry, the scrutiny.
He returns every smile and passes with a strong but casual walk. In the low night lights, he seems less the earnest young man seen earlier running, jumping, and throwing with such grace under dazzling stadium lights; the dark makes him look a bit older, more romantic. This is perfect for the crowd facing him now. They love baseball, but they LOVE Derek Jeter.
He gets more fan letters per day, according to some reports, than any other Yankee. How many exactly? "We haven't really kept count," a weary Yankee PR person responds, with an edge that seems to question the asker's sanity. "Just a lot. A lot." They started coming the instant the twenty-year-old, born in New Jersey and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, stepped in early in the 1995 season, promoted from the Yanks' AAA minor leagues to fill a gap left by some injured players. In baseball parlance, Jeter was "up for a cup of coffee," not even lasting through the entire season in the majors — but his name and first impressions of his flashing bat and swift fielding did. Even after he was sent back to the minors, people kept asking for him, about him, writing to him. Columnists and professional sports watchers seemed as dazzled as the smitten young women and idolizing boys and girls who surrounded him outside the stadium before games, dashed down to the Yankees dugout for autographs during the game, and waited for a last meeting with him after each game was over. This public fascination has continued for three more seasons that have been full of greater achievements on the playing field and more and more widespread acclaim.
Tonight, the luster of the Yankees (and the promise of seeing Derek flushed and happy after a victory, the first of four in a clean sweep of the National League champs, the San Diego Padres) outshines even that of Hollywood. Many of the seats in the stadium tonight were filled with the rich, famous, and powerful. (In fact, according to some reports only a little over 5,000 seats were made available to the general public.) The fans waiting for their heroes react with curiosity but little ecstasy as multi-Oscar-winner Jack Nicholson passes, eliciting scarcely a glance, Yankee cap jammed low over his head. "Where's Derek?" one of the youngest girls plaintively wails, a big red paper heart blooming across her T-shirt. Then Calista Flockhart, Fox television's winsome attorney Ally McBeal, strides by nervously, thin as a rail, her face covered by a vintage Yankee cap. Flockhart doesn't hear a cheer, though, and the only commentary she arouses from the onlookers is "That girl needs to eat." Barbara Walters appears, handsome in a fall coat and big smile. "We won! We won!" the veteran TV reporter and headmistress of The View cries, giving a thumbs-up to the fans, who cheer and wave politely. "But where's Derek?" another girl asks anyone. "I have to go to the bathroom." Temperatures do rise a little for Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and movie star Bruce Willis. They almost reach high intensity when the short guy standing nearby chatting with a couple of cops turns out to be Party of Five's Scott Wulf. He is the only nonbaseball celebrity anyone asks for an autograph that night.
Finally, the players begin to appear. If this were a normal Yankee night, they would approach the fans, sign autographs, maybe pose for pictures. But since it's the World Series, and since 800 policemen have been assigned to safeguard the players and public, and since the cops need something to do, they form a cordon a few feet away, keeping the players close but a little too far from their admirers. Everybody wails. One by one, to cheers and whoops, they appear: Wells, Tino Martinez (who walks up to the fans, smiles and waves, earning extra squeals and whistles of delight over his very fine looks), Paul O'Neill. The cops swarm about eagerly, as awestruck as the kids jumping up and down behind them to get a better view of their team.
Then one person gasps "There he is!" and there, indeed, is Derek Jeter: a little tired but affable looking, walking easily through the crowd, waving back at the fans, who shatter the sound barrier with a cry of adoration. The boys and young men behind the barricades chant "DJ! DJ! DJ!" like soldiers on maneuvers. The girls and women (even the forty-something mother of one of them, oblivious to the stare of the man next to her, who happens to be her husband) go an octave above the males, in a long spiral of one sacred word — "DEEEEEERRRRRREEEEEEKKKKKK!" — that goes on for a solid minute, until their idol is out of sight. It probably would have continued, the howls piercing the chilly Bronx midnight, but for the sudden appearance of several dozen people rather sheepishly walking in front of us and into the buses reserved for the San Diego Padres. Adoration gives way to the merciless scorn New Yorkers can dish out better than anyone else: "Losers! Losers!"
"Are you sure they're all with the Padres?" someone asks, to be answered by "Of course they are! Lookit all the blondes!" Once the San Diegans are cooling their heels (and lost hopes) on their buses, depression sets in. The game is over. Derek has left the building. Nobody got autographs.
It's a heady spell, after all. The New York Yankees are the greatest baseball team in the world. Tonight's World Series marks the start of their 35th attempt to win the World Series. They were successful 23 of those prior attempts. The last victory was in 1996, Jeter's rookie season, and he was no small part of that triumph. Their stadium, built in 1923, is not so much a sports venue as an historic shrine. Visiting teams enter it with a mixture of respect and defiance and awe. Generations of sports lovers have filled its seats season after season. The lives and words and achievements of its players, managers, and owners have fascinated those generations. It makes it all the more amazing, then, to look around tonight and see Derek Jeter's presence everywhere. Vendors can't stop selling Jeter memorabilia; despite the higher cost (Derek's name, signature, or player number on a shirt, hat, or other garment can raise the price by as much as five dollars) fans buy in bulk and come back for still more next time. There is something about this young man, beyond his sterling performance on the playing field, that has become the focal point of this seemingly unbeatable team of commanding, remarkably accomplished athletes. More than any other Yankee, perhaps, Derek Jeter exemplifies the power of that spell.
Journalists and baseball pros are awfully tough to con. With a generosity typical of sports lovers, they are quick to praise, but also careful to be measured with any enthusiasm. If an early flasher of a player doesn't live up to the promise of his initial impression, they say so. Jeter has seemed to them not so much a hot young player as a phenomenon, someone to be watched and written about with awe:
"In a Yankees–Indians game the other night, Derek Jeter made a play I've never seen before," wrote syndicated conservative columnist John Leo. "On a ground ball deep in the hole between short and third, he leaped high in the air and, while airborne, threw hard and accurately to first for the out. None of the shortstops in my rosy memories could have made that play."
"When [Derek Jeter] came up for good in 1996, [Yanks manager Joe] Torre hoped for .250 and defense," writes the New York Post's sports columnist Joel Sherman (.250 being an okay batting average for a rookie quivering through his first major-league season). "But Jeter was a star from that Opening Day. He changed the entire talent level of the team as a middle infielder who can do it all. And he has just gotten better each year, adding a power component and becoming a superb defensive shortstop. His willingness to work at his craft, despite all the siren songs of fame that call him particularly, is emblematic of the whole team."
Civilian sports fans are just as enthusiastic over the young shortstop's performance — on and off the field. New York's former governor, Mario Cuomo, himself once a minor-league center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, comments "I think what's unusual about Jeter is his collection of talents at this early age  — he plays like a guy who's been playing shortstop for 15 years. He does everything well, and he learns. As an athlete he's unusual, extraordinary — not unique perhaps. But beyond that is the way he deports himself. He has enough of the small boy in him to make him charming, but he is at all times civil, well mannered, living by the obvious manners."
Other fans have earthier reasons for admiring Derek: "He's so cute, he drives me nuts," says one. "I will marry Derek when I grow up," swears one of his teenage cheerleaders at the 1998 World Series victory parade. "I will. I will." Other Jeter fans, overhearing her, make sour, competitive faces: Sharing the fantasy can get ugly.
And then there were the love letters tossed beseechingly at him during the 1996 ticker-tape parade celebrating the Yankee World Series win Jeter helped make possible. Not dozens of letters. Hundreds.
Jeter's colleagues haven't written him any love letters (that we are aware of) but express their approval just as ardently:
"This kid is amazing. He plays like a guy who's been around for 10 years," Phil Rizzuto, Hall of Fame Yankee and longtime Yankee broadcast announcer, raved to Yankees magazine about the shortstop's rookie season. "I'm trying to think who the best Yankee shortstop I've ever seen is and I keep coming back to this kid. He could turn out as the greatest shortstop the Yankees have ever had."
"He's like kid dynamite, he's got so much going for him," Yankee manager Joe Torre observed, with a little of the wonder almost everyone expresses when they begin to talk about Jeter. "He's a tough kid, both physically and mentally. That will enable him to do a lot of things."
"I watched him blossom into a major league shortstop," former Yankee third baseman Wade Boggs commented during the October 1996 run to the World Series — in Jeter's rookie season with the team. "He has exceptional talent. He has great tools. He does a lot of things real well. He's a quiet kid, but he'll be a veteran one day and step into the spotlight."
"He's a good shortstop," said New York Met Rey Ordonez, during Jeter's rookie season. "I think, with time, he's going to be the best shortstop in the American League."
Yanks coach Willie Randolph: "I'm telling you, this kid might be a rookie in name, but in mind, heart and ability, he's got to be a six-year veteran, because that's exactly how he plays."
"His potential is unlimited," Cal Ripken, the future Hall of Fame shortstop, has said. And he ought to know.
Longtime baseballer Don Zimmer, a former shortstop himself and now a coach for the Yanks, expressed his professional opinion even more succinctly. The veteran of 50 seasons in baseball went over to Joe Torre one day during Jeter's stupendous rookie season with the Yankees and told him: "We have found a treasure."
On the other hand, "He is the absolute worst at returning phone calls. He's always late," Alex Rodriguez, sovereign shortstop for the Seattle Mariners and said to be Jeter's closest friend in baseball, 'fessed to ESPN The Magazine. "And he's a horrible basketball player. He thinks he's got mad game, but he has no game." Nobody's perfect.
Tonight, it's safe to say, Derek Jeter has hit a new peak of popularity; he still handles it as politely and professionally as ever. His simple human warmth and unassuming manner are as charming as his good looks. Millions of Americans know his smile and handsomeness from countless photos and video clips but, up close, he seems even more striking — taller and heavier than most shortstops (6'3", 195 lbs.), swift and graceful despite his size, with a broad face that, even confronting a siege of near-delirious shrieking females, seems friendly and poised. His eyes are a vivid, fresh green. His face seems like several all at once. Sometimes he looks like a shy, almost dopey kid, the eyes watching carefully beneath big lids, the mouth open slightly as if he's about to sigh yet again. Then someone says something, or he is made to laugh, and the face suddenly matures into that of a dashingly handsome young man. Then he calms down, appearing more thoughtful, looking off to the side maybe, and his eyes get mellower, serious, as if all the attention just has to be absorbed for an extra moment, to assimilate it. But, at last, he ducks his head and faces you again, this time with another welcoming if slightly shy smile.
Regular Jeter fans (the teenage girls who follow Jeter like extra shadows are sometimes called Jeterettes or Jetermaniacs) readily tell you how friendly and accomodating he is with them on nights when the cops, the superstars, and the world's media are not around. He gives autographs with the automatic dispatch of a player who could sign for fans in his sleep. In a Jeter close encounter, the recipients are awed, giggling with excitement, grateful, or just casually friendly. It's these last Derek Jeter responds to the most easily. Though he does an amazing job of appearing professional and prepared, being in the spotlight on and off the field isn't easy, even for someone who has mastered that talent at an relatively young age. He enjoys the attention, but there is something in the way he steps around people and waits an instant before responding to a question that makes you realize how seriously he takes his job, and how careful he has to be to live up to its expectations. At an age when others are just starting to figure out what they want to do with their lives and how to begin their journey, Jeter is already well along on a tough career under the watch of millions of constantly adoring but demanding eyes.
They have heard a lot about him. How he was born in New Jersey and moved with his family to the Midwest when still a toddler. How, on a summer vacation while staying with his grandmother in New Jersey, he was taken to a Yankee game, and decided then and there he wanted to be a member of that team someday. How he then methodically, steadily, and with an unnaturally mature determination, rapidly grew into a strong, talented young player worthy of that little boy's goal. And how he was drafted right out of high school by the Yanks, who promoted him with startling swiftness through the minors and then up to the majors, making his debut with the dream team at the amazing age of 20. And then how he helped the Yankees win the World Series in his debut season, and has become an ever more essential element in that team's prosperity ever since, his life off the field (including a romance with a major singing star) coming under as much public scrutiny as his achievements in Yankee Stadium.
They have heard all this. But the whole story, taken in one sweep, remains a remarkable one. Derek Jeter's is the story of a dream, a determination, and a confidence that, so far, has proven him capable of achieving amazing feats at a still young age.
The eyes outside Yankee Stadium tonight are getting tired. Several of the teenagers are yawning, and even the cops look like they want to head home. So after a few more waves and "I love you, Derek!"s shouted into the night (in case he is still within earshot) everyone disbands. You wonder how someone who has just played baseball for four hours with the world avidly watching, someone who feels the competitiveness and desire lock on his bat swings, then somehow copes with all this adulation and performs up to its expectations, manages to go home and calm down enough to get a good night's sleep.
That makes you wonder more about Derek Jeter. It's fascinating to watch a person who has known all his life what he wanted out of it and pursued his goal with such singleminded devotion, and made of the dream and the effort a near-flawless success. When Jeter steps up to the plate in the Bronx, nearly a hundred thousand eyes gleam in a mixture of suspense and wonder over what he has already done, is about to do, and is. How on earth has it all happened — and will he keep making it happen ...?
Excerpted from Derek Jeter: Pride of the Yankees by Patrick Giles. Copyright © 1998 Patrick Giles. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Pregame Warmup: At the Palace of Baseball,
First Inning: The Idol,
Second Inning: The Dream,
Third Inning: Confidence,
Fourth Inning: Yankee,
Fifth Inning: Magic,
Sixth Inning: Jetermania!,
Seventh Inning: Always Be My Baby ...,
Eighth Inning: Simply the Best,
Ninth Inning: Pride of the Yankees,
Derek Jeter at a Glance,