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My Night With Derek Jeter



By Mike Silva ~ July 4th, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva, New York Yankees.

A .260 hitter no range or power normally would be a bad reason to travel three hours on a holiday weekend to watch him rehab in a Double-A game. The fact that said player is future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter (coupled with the overcast Long Island sky) made the decision rather easy. What was in store was my first up close and personal experience with The Captain.

Put a few things in perspective about this game. The Yankees Double-A affiliate, Trenton, set a team record for attendance (9,212), which surpassed Roger Clemens comeback start in 2007, and was 200 more than the prior night when Jeter played his first rehab game. Fans were lined up already at 3:30 PM for the 7:05 PM start time. The usual local media was there, but MLB Productions, WFAN and ESPN made the trip. It was a crowded press box, forcing many to sit in the auxiliary area behind home plate. Brian Cashman, Gene Michael, and Nardi Contreras were in attendance from the Yankees hierarchy. In other words, not your typical minor league press environment.

It’s hard to describe what happened to Jeter when he entered the field. Think Elvis with the screaming teenage girls, but instead, you have a gender and aged mixed crowd screaming for him to acknowledge them or sign an autograph. One kid had his autographed smudged and freaked out; nearly coming to tears as he begged the police officer and cameramen to get Jeter to come back for a do-over. Remember, this was batting practice. There was a wall of fans around the home team dugout, and as I stood with the media (following his every move), you get uncomfortable with all the eyes staring. Mind you, they could care less about me, but it makes you uneasy. It was so crazy the prior night that some fans tried to chase down his limousine as he left the building.

Give Jeter credit. He knows exactly how to handle the situation. The first impression is the presence he emanates when he is near you. There is a confidence, borderline cockiness, which you immediately pick up. It’s not a turnoff at all. It’s probably the reason why he’s been able to survive and thrive in a game that tries to swallow you up. It nearly did him in as minor leaguer after a 56 error season in 1993. The Yankees send a handler to follow The Captain around, but he really doesn’t need him. He knows how to conduct himself, almost regally, with the fans. He went over to an elderly woman who is the Trenton “super fan,” shook her hand and whispered a few words. A 12 year old boy had a sign behind the dugout creative enough that Jeter gave him his batting practice bat. He signed autographs for about 10 minutes, despite the annoying squeals that accompanied the practice.

How can Jeter deal with this? How can he constantly look unfazed? Trenton manager Tony Franklin said that fans have no idea how much Jeter puts into baseball throughout the day. One doesn’t get 3,000 hits (hence the MLB Productions crew) by focusing on the peripheral stuff around the game. Maybe that’s why he is so robotic in his interaction, almost phony, and he appears to be completely disinterested in any type of dialogue with the media. You forgot the stuff that matters to us is really a roadblock to sustaining the performance behind the adulation. He didn’t allow any of the insanity to prevent him from taking BP, interacting with his teammates, or cut short his infield. It was about baseball, first and foremost, from the minute he comes to the ballpark.

When he takes the field in a “colorful,” to say the least, red, white and blue holiday uniform he is one of the team (Cashman would tell the media later he sent a picture of Jeter in the uniform to loosen up the Yanks after the tough loss to the Mets). During the game, Jeter makes mound visits, does infield, and tries fit in as a member of a team that will be in his rearview mirror in three hours. Although healthy, his play still raises question marks. Altoona’s Kyle McPherson blows him away in his second at-bat with a 94 mph inside fastball. Jeter’s lack of range forces him to drop a line drive up the middle. He throws away a routine grounder when trying to make his patented flip throw. There are moments where you see glimpses of his Hall of Fame resume. The Altoona centerfielder, inexplicably, doesn’t pick up a ball in centerfield as Jeter goes first to third. He bunts with the infield back and two runners on with none out to pick up a base hit. A milestone, as the scoreboard announces it’s the Captain’s 550th hit of his minor league career. Not 3,000, but something to put in the record books. There is also the smooth 6-6-3 double play. Bottom line, he’s Derek Jeter circa 2011: a singles hitter with no range at short, but plenty of heads up play.

His game doesn’t match the presence. He has the Joe DiMaggio off the field persona down pat, including the movie star girlfriend, but his play is closer to Mike Gallego. After his removal in the sixth inning, we all shuffle down to the press conference. If there ever was a player with one foot on an airplane, it was Jeter. He was snippy with the media. One reporter asked him to describe his two day experience in Trenton and Jeter said, “you tell me, you’re writing the story.” He told everyone his calf didn’t hurt, but even if it did, he wouldn’t have said anything. He was “surprised” by the All Star selection and didn’t really care about the vote. Derek Jeter makes it appear that baseball to him is like clocking into work for us. We show up, we do our job, and we go home to enjoy the things we really cherish. Would you want to do a press conference after a long day at the office? Maybe that is what’s made Jeter so special to the game. Perhaps the fact that he goes about his work no differently than an assembly line worker, is how he’s inspired members of the #1 sports franchise in North America. In an era where sports are as much about style as substance, Jeter eschews all the craziness around him. He loathes its, making you loathe him, but at the same time respect how grounded he remains. You want him embrace the pulpit, but he stubbornly doesn’t; almost in a defiant manner. This is his world, you are living in it.

The real story will develop going forward. The Yankees were 14-4 without him in the lineup. Their offense is averaging six runs a game with Brett Gardner at the top of the lineup. Eduardo Nunez is every bit the hitter, and probably better defensively once he gets over the yips with some of his throws. Even Ramiro Pena, who threw away a Subway Series game with two errors, isn’t that far off from Jeter on both sides of the ball. Leadership? Jeter threw that away years ago with his behavior when A-Rod came to town. This version of the Yankees doesn’t need him like their nineties counterparts.

We probably will be celebrating 3,000 hits this week; after that, then what? What if the Yankees start to lose with him at the top of the order? The same .260/no power/no range player we have seen for two years. Anyone else would be dropped in the order or benched. That will not be easy with Jeter who bullied the Yankees into giving him a contract that is more of a lifetime achievement award. They had to get ownership involved just to put him on the disabled list. Who will have to get involved with a lineup change? The commissioner?  If he gets benched will the Yankees have to call the Pope?

I am glad I had the chance to see Jeter up close and personal for a day. It was an experience I will always remember. I didn’t learn anything new, just validated the stories about him I have heard. What I do know is the player doesn’t match the hype. Lifetime achievement awards are usual one night celebrations, not four year contracts playing shortstop for the New York Yankees. Something tells me that things are going to get ugly right after 3,000 hits. Jeter is too proud and too stubborn for it not too. Ironically, the leverage he holds is the exact thing he loathes: the media attention and fan adulation. Amazing how that works.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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21 Responses to My Night With Derek Jeter

  1. Steve S.

    Suzyn Waldman said yesterday if the Yanks ask him to hit 8th, he will with no argument from him. The whole thing is media generated, DErek has always done the right thing and been respectful of his bosses. I have my doubts, we’ve seen instances where his pride has got in the way of doing what’s right for the team. We’ll see.

    BTW-I was watching that game online and Manny Banny deserved better. MILB defense is just awful. It’s an advertisement for looking solely at FIP when it comes to evaluating pitchers.

  2. Mike Silva

    I don’t know Steve, not sure I agree with Waldman. She may be talking more with her heart than her head.

    On Saturday, Cashman told the media that it was a chore (my words) to get Jeter to go on the DL. He didn’t want to and wanted to play through it. Not sure a guy with his range should be starting at SS with a calf injury that would compromise that even more.

    Posada would have been released by now if not for Jeter (good thing?? time will tell).

    I think he will go down in the order, but it won’t be willingly and comfortable. I think that is the real issue. The media can’t generate something that isn’t there. Jeter makes it easy with how he handles the media (hands off) and his historical stubbornness.

  3. mish

    Baseball needs Jeter period– until they find the next face of America, a biracial superstar who embodies the spirit of this country. Jeter appears to be a hard working professional who lovs his job and does what he needs to do. He deserves to be an all star because America wants him there. I also think you are wrong in terms of leadership. Everyone is quick to point out how he treated Arod, but what about others in the clubhouse and around the league whom he did lead and help. Arod appears to be a very talented jerk and who knows if Jeter tried to help him out of the spotlight. Stop judging you do not know what happens behind closed doors. Jeter skills may be declining and he is aging– funny he continues to symbolize every man’s life span.

  4. Chuck Johnson

    Thanks for sharing, Mike.

    As a credentialed member of the media, you’d have access to other things the paying fan would;, like how long he signed autographs. And these are the things I’m interested in.

    Did he seem to interact well with his teammates?

    Did he go to the mound and say something to Banuelos after his error?

    How much did it cost him to pick up the post-game spread, and, more importantly, what was it?

    Did he drop $20k on steaks at Ruth’s Chris like Miguel Cabrera did, or did he drop $400 on Domino’s pizza like Manny Ramirez?

    Earlier this year when Josh Hamilton went on his rehab, he signed for ninety minutes.

    Ten minutes is like not signing at all.

    And Hamilton rode the team bus.

    Suzyn Waldman talking with her head or her heart is an improvement to what she usually talks with.

  5. kay

    Wow.

    I watched that press conference thanks to You Tube and I’m wondering where you were?

    I didn’t get a hint of an attitude during that press conference, and last I checked and heard, he acts like a smooth professional which is different than being robotic. Perhaps you need a synonym finder or a good thesaurus?

    Reading your piece it definitely seems like you had an axe to grind and were looking for ways to confirm your preconceived notions.

    You conveniently left out some things too. Your take on his comments about the ASG gives the impression that he doesn’t care when if you watch the video he said that he was honored, etc. Also seems that his not caring about the vote thing was him saying he wasn’t all hung up on it not that he didn’t care about being selected.

    As for the level of his play, I think he had said the night before that he felt rusty and was trying to get into game shape so to say that his play in Trenton was indicative that he sucks now was just again as if you were looking for something to confirm your already developed opinions.

    As for the dimwit that used Josh Hamilton as a comparison, who has ever mobbed Josh Hamilton? Of course he rode the team bus. Just sayin…

    Some people will never be satisfied.

    Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion but Sheesh…

    Then again, I’ve never heard of you before… guess I know why now.

  6. Mike Silva

    @Kay

    I was in the room, clearly Jeter didn’t want to be there. How would you take the quote from the story “you are writing the story, what do you think?” when a reporter asked him a question about his 2 day experience. He doesn’t make great eye contact, body language is bad, overall it is what it is. I think you are looking at that conference from the wrong POV, or perhaps it would have helped being in the room.

    So you are saying that he doesn’t have poor range? I am wrong in saying he doesn’t have power? He isn’t a good baseball player anymore. Look at the numbers. I don’t think rust in Trenton is the reason for it.

    @Chuck Johnson

    While I agree with you Chuck, what I saw from the fan reaction makes it impossible for Jeter to be part of the team in terms of signing autographs for 90 minutes and riding the team bus. It’s a crush, literally, and he handles it well. He couldn’t even really do his warmups without cameras from the MLB Network, media, and fans watched his every move. It was probably heightened because of the fact it was at a little 7,000 seat park instead of The Stadium, but I don’t think I can knock Jeter for handling the fans.

    As for what he did with the club in terms of food- not sure. I know Kenny Loften did a bad job a few years ago (didn’t get them anything), but by all accounts most of the rehab guys do the right thing with a clubhouse spread.

    $400 of Dominoes? Manny being Manny.

  7. Chuck Johnson

    So, Jeter picked up the clubhouse tab for the entire weekend, some BBQ place called Famous Dave’s.

    Phil Hughes went one day to Outback Steakhouse, the next day to On the Border, a Mexican place.

    Mike, I’m watching the YES broadcast on MLB Network and Kim Jones was at Jeter’s press conference yesterday in Trenton and she pretty much had the same take on Jeter that you did.

  8. Mike Silva

    That’s funny I didn’t see her – what did she say? I had the sound down while working out.

  9. Chuck Johnson

    She said he seemed annoyed to be there, (I guess there was a presser after every game and even on Friday night when he got there), and that he seemed to be in a hurry to leave.

    John Flaherty said Jeter was on the team plane to Cleveland, so maybe he was just anxious to get back to New York and not keep everyone waiting.

  10. kay

    Since he flashed his smile after that and often during the presser I would take the quote as his usual sly, dry, evasive style, but then I don’t have an axe to grind.

    I even asked someone else I know who was in the room to see if I missed something that I couldn’t see watching the presser. Nope. They said he was his usual self, businesslike, polite, not giving you much but not being rude about it, just sort of vanilla.

    As for his skills on the field, they are average now. He is what he is – an aging star. That’s not a news flash or a revelation. It’s also not a reason to bash him. Perhaps you haven’t watched too many stars age naturally on the field, or did you just never like him, felt he was always overrated and now this is just moreso?

    I guess you just wanted him to give you some deep, introspective revelations about his inner thoughts.

    He doesn’t do that. Never has.

    As for Kim Jones, I could have sworn she said he seemed anxious to get back with the team = and he said that several times himself – but I never heard him say he was annoyed to be in Trenton.

    Also Jones said that Jeter bought dinner for three nights including the night he just was there briefly but didn’t play. So the conclusion in the booth was that he went beyond Hughes.

  11. Chuck Johnson

    Kay,

    I’m unable to find on Youtube the actual press conference, can you post the link, please?

    And whether you actually watched it or not really isn’t relevant, because two people who cover New York sports for a living were in the room and share similar opinions.

    I’ll reserve further judgement until I see the video, but not being able to hear the questions, not being able to see body language when he walked into the room would tell me more than what Jeter actually said.

  12. kay

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyZz5J0n–o

  13. Chuck Johnson

    Thanks.

    He did seem a little annoyed, what with everyone asking questions at the same time.

    I guess the Trenton GM has never moderated a press conference before.

    He also looked to get up a couple of times at the end, then someone popped another question and he stopped.

    Unless you’re there, you can’t tell anything, really.

  14. tnt1528

    i have never seen a ballplayer so overhyped then jeter…..jeter always talks, but never says anything of importance.same dry bland answer all the time. and why does baseball need jeter, ever see him on a commercial shilling for bb and not other companies?(ford).take him out of ny and he is craig biggio.

  15. Shanon

    Like any athlete whose glory days are behind him, I don’t imagine Jeter will relish the move down the batting order and/or to another position on the field. Whether Suzy is right or wrong in her assessment of how he’ll handle it, does anyone actually think the media or the public will ever know the truth about how it all actually goes down? As Mike pointed out, Jeter is a master at handling the media and he’s made a second career out of giving the no-info interview. I don’t see Cashman or the Yankees selling him out on this one (unless he really throws a fit and makes their lives miserable) so, unless that happens, or unless someone else in the clubhouse leaks it, what are the chances that the media will ever have more than mere speculation on how Jeter reacts to those changes when the time comes?

  16. John

    I worked there over the summer and was lucky enough to meet Derek and eat his post game spread that you mentioned, after the first game.

    Chuck, Jeter’s rehab was probably the largest and most talked about rehab assignment that is probably ever going to take place in Thunder history.

    Your statement about the GM never moderating a presser like that before is pretty obvious. No bigger figure has ever walked through Waterfront Park like that ever before. Reggie Jackson, yes has made visits. But Jeter is the greatest living Yankee ever. Despite not having much experience with media like that for a minor-league game, or any at all, the Thunder staff did an awesome job in making Jeter’s stay as smooth as possible. Not sure you realize how much work went into making sure everything went right for Jeter in his 3 days there.

  17. Chuck Johnson

    “Not sure you realize how much work went into making sure everything went right…”

    I do.

  18. Joseph DelGrippo

    John –

    “But Jeter is the greatest living Yankee ever.”

    Yogi Berra says hello.

  19. Brien Jackson

    “My Night With Derek Jeter.”

    Did you keep the autographed ball?

  20. John

    Joseph-

    My reference point was to players rehabbing at Waterfront Park or being present there. “No bigger figure has ever walked through Waterfront Park like that ever before. Reggie Jackson, yes has made visits. But Jeter is the greatest living Yankee ever”

    Tell him I said hello as well.

  21. John

    Sheesh, somebody always jumping on every word you say on here.

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