There have been many constants in Derek Jeter’s career—hits, runs, rings, endorsements, and beautiful girlfriends—none more endearing than the site of his family watching him from the stands. They are the modern family—his father Charles is African American, his mother Dorothy is Irish and German. Fifty years ago Jeter’s blackness would have been an issue; today, in the age of Obama, race has never been an issue for Jeter—it’s as if he’s beyond race. They are often joined by Jeter’s younger sister, Sharlee, her two-year old son, Jalen, now in tow. Sometimes there’s an aunt or a girlfriend.
They are still here at the end, rooting harder than ever—suffering with every near miss—as if he were a rookie or a kid playing an American Legion game on a cold rainy spring morning. When Jeter makes an out, their suffering seems worse because the inescapable truth is that his time is short. Including yesterday’s 5-2 win over the Blue Jays in which Jeter had 2 hits for the 4th straight game, he has—what, 20-25 at bats left at Yankee Stadium? Each at bat is precious and if Jeter has retained his usual stoic countenance you can see the desperation in his parents’ reactions.
A few weeks ago, when he was in the middle of a slump, Jeter hit a ball to deep left center field against the Rays. It was his third at bat of the game (0-2: groundout, flyout, both weak) and he hadn’t turned on a pitch in what seemed liked forever. He hit it hard enough for the crowd to react but not well enough to go over the outfielders head. The ball was caught at the warning track.
The TV replay showed Charles Jeter in his seat watching the flight of the ball. Next to him, Dorothy sat up straight and said “Oh” when the ball was struck. As the watched it she said, “Please go, please go, please go.” She paused a beat and said it one last time. She jerked back into her seat when the ball was caught, clasped her hands behind her head and leaned back. Charles Jeter smiled and looked down, almost sheepish as if it was greedy to expect more.
On Friday night, Jeter sent another fly ball to the warning track in left field. He’d already gotten 2 hits in the game and there was hope that he had one last flourish left in him during his final home stand. Jeter’s dad stood up when his son hit the ball. Dorothy gasped and put her hands on her cheek, eyes were wide with concern. Her sister was next to her leaning forward, hands pressed together in prayer. Dorothy covered her eyes when the ball was caught. She fell back into her seat. Oh, a mother’s agony.
Charles Jeter smiled and sat down. Their son has given them more thrills than they ever could have ever dreamed of and you can’t blame them for wanting more.
The $64,000 question around the Yankees is will Jeter cry before the season is over? Chances are he won’t, but if he does, I suspect it will be in his parents’ arms.