Jeter, from day one, became the Yankees’ “Everyman”–everybody’s son, everybody’s brother, everybody’s dream boyfriend. Without even trying, he tapped into every chord of the Yankee mythos like no player since Mantle. He would add a few unmistakable new notes of his own, heralding in a new age for the franchise. Jeter had it all, and from his first day he became the best shortstop in club history. The Yankees couldn’t have invented him had they tried.
Glenn Stout, Yankee Century
When we talk about Derek Jeter we talk about class and dignity and tradition. Those buzz words that sound cliche. We talk about how he is overrated, but maybe underrated too. About how cool and calm he is, how calculatedly dull but dutiful he is with the press. But what I’ll always remember about Jeter is how much fun he has playing baseball. It is his defining quality for me and one that is virtually ignored in the sea of commentary about Jeter.
Have you ever seen him in a big game not smiling and generally enjoying the s*** out of himself? It is as if he’s impervious to the nerves of the moment.
Baseball has a name for the player who, in the eyes of his peers, is well attuned to the demands of his discipline; he is called “a gamer.” The gamer does not drool, or pant, before the cry of “Play ball.” Quite the opposite. He is the player, like George Brett or Pete Rose, who is neither too intense, nor too lax, neither lulled into carelessness in a dull August doubleheader nor wired too tight in an October playoff game. The gamer may scream and curse when his mates show the first hints of laziness, but he makes jokes and laughs naturally in the seventh game of the Series.
Tom Boswell, How Life Imitates the World Series
Jeter is a man defined and consumed by his work, an ideal we’d all love to have ourselves but only few share. It’s part of what draws us to him. But Jeter reminds us that work can be play too. Who wouldn’t like to think of themselves handling themselves like Jeter in tough situations?
Pete Rose may have enjoyed himself as much as Jeter but not more. And it wasn’t easy to share those feelings with Rose. Perhaps the best thing you can say about Jeter is that he’s competitive and has class and dates gorgeous women and he’s not Pete Rose. Jeter does not let us get too close–we don’t know him away from the field–but the beauty part is that he lets us see all we need to know of him on the field.
The play is the thing, after all.
In an e-mail, Stout added:
I’ve always thought that with Jeter it’s actually really, really simple. You know when he was a little, little boy, he decided he wanted to play shortstop for the Yankees – that’s all he ever wanted, and for as long as he can remember that’s all he has ever imagined doing. He’s about the only person on the planet who has never had to scale down his dream, and since he has imagined himself doing what he is doing his entire life, it feels completely normal, the most natural thing in the world – on the field he is completely at home with himself, completely relaxed and happy. Why not smile?
And that’s why he was there to make the tag on Gomez, and the flip to Posada to get Giambi out way back when, and the home runs he hits right after the other team scores and all those other plays he makes – he’s been living these moments in his head his whole life, from the days he laid on his bed and tossed the ball up toward the ceiling. It’s not natural, but it is natural to him – he’s been playing shortstop for more than thirty years.
And what about the Nick Punto play last night? Stout continues:
I loved the Jeter just calmly explained that he saw Punto out of the corner of his eye then waited for him to commit and made sure he threw a ball to Jorge that he could handle, ho hum, on the fly, instant decision that all took place in about 1/2 a second. He’s like the guy that has learned to solve the Rubik’s cube.
It’s the smirk, the enjoying the moment, that I’ll always remember about Jeter. Not every great player allows you to see them having fun–heck even Mariano doesn’t exude that same vibe. But with Jeter you know he’s loving it. And he loves it when his teammates do well. Did you catch the little kid enthusiasm from Jeter after Alex Rodriguez hit that dinger off of Joe Nathan on Friday night?
After the game last night, Mariano Rivera talked about Rodriguez to reporters. “He’s feeling great and he trusts himself,” said Rivera. “He’s having fun, having fun, having fun and that’s the most important thing. Before, he was trying so hard and you can’t have fun like that. Now, he’s just enjoying it.”
Just like Jeter.