By Sweeny Murti
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Since Derek Jeter announced in February that he would retire at the end of this season, I have spent time gathering thoughts and memories from people around baseball.
I asked those who played alongside, managed or coached Jeter along the way for a favorite story or memory, something that stood out when they thought of the captain, and here is what they told me:
Buck Showalter, former Yankees manager:
At the end of the 1995 season, I called Derek and Jorge Posada in (to my office). I told them, “Listen you’re going to be here (for the playoffs). You’re not going to be active, but I want you to soak this in, dah dah dah dah.” I said, “Understand that if I hear about you guys running the streets, we can make this real easy and get you down to Instructional League real fast.” Later, I don’t remember if it was Jorge or Derek that told me, “We didn’t leave that hotel room the whole time we were there!” They were scared to death we were going to find out.
The one thing about Derek during that time, he used that time wisely. He watched everything, was alert. He was respectful, but not in awe of that level. That’s very different. He wasn’t intimidated, but had a lot of respect for it. He took it, did the things he had to work on, and it worked out pretty good.
Jorge Posada, former Yankees catcher:
Nineteen-ninety-five, in September, we were on the bench and we weren’t playing. Roberto Alomar is playing (for Toronto) and he makes a hell of a play and we were sitting there like we were fans in the dugout. He makes this hell of a play in the hole and threw, and we jumped up and were like “Ohhhhhhh!” like we were fans and everybody in the dugout looked at us like, “What the hell are you doing?” Buck Showalter and Mike Stanley and all the other guys were looking at us, and I was like, “Oh boy.”
David Cone, former Yankees pitcher:
Game 5 in Seattle (1995 ALDS) … he ran off the bench to shake my hand. I don’t know if I blew him off or not—I was walking off the mound after walking Doug Strange to tie the game. Buck Showalter took me out, put in Mariano Rivera. And Jeter was the first one to greet me off the mound after that. I’ve seen a few highlights of it, and I’ve thought it was pretty impressive for a kid like that (not on the active roster, but in uniform) to be so into the game and have that kind of self-awareness to be the first one to get to me.
Paul O’Neill, former Yankees outfielder:
He always amazed me that when his popularity grew, how he could do so many things throughout the day—whether there was a shoot for a magazine, this or that—but, boy, when it was time to play the game he was focused on the game. He’s always been a winner, and in big situations, in big playoff games, he always found a way to help the team win. Looking back, those are great memories.
Hideki Matsui, former Yankees outfielder:
My first couple years we were living in the same building, so we used to see each other going to the stadium or coming back from the ballpark, and I had an opportunity to visit him in his place. I was able to see a different side of Derek I don’t get to see at the ballpark. He has that aura of a superstar, but he was able to just get rid of that. When he was in his place, relaxed, he just didn’t have that. You were able to meet Derek Jeter the human being. And I think that’s something that’s impressive that he could manage that, sort of turn it on and turn it off.
Gene Monahan, former Yankees trainer:
I remember when he made that tremendous play and went into the stands (against Boston in 2004), busted his face up real good, bloodied his eye and his nose and all that stuff, but through everything he was always very calm and very quiet, and I don’t think we were even in the runway yet when he said, “I’m in there (the lineup) tomorrow.” That’s the kind of guy he is.
I learned early on, when Derek put the uniform on, whether it was the grays or the pinstripes, it was “We’re gonna play. I’m competing.” I taught him that, I said, “There’s a difference between playing and competing, pal.” And he said, “Well, I’m competing every day.” And when he came to the ballpark he came to play and he came to win, those were his mottos—“I’m coming to the ballpark, I’m putting on the uniform, I’m going to compete and we’re going to win.” And that was it every day. He loved that and he instilled that in everybody else.
Stump Merrill, former Yankees minor league manager:
I was fortunate to have him both as a minor league player and as a rehab player. The thing I remember the most was when I was managing in Trenton and he was on rehab (dislocated shoulder, 2003) and he came into my office because he knew me and said, “Stump I’m here to help your club win.” I said, “Derek you’re here to get healthy and get you back to New York.” And he said, “No, I’m here to help your club win.”
This will show you the special kid that he really is, to come down and think he’s going to meld right in with the kids, which he did, and help you win…everything was team oriented, like he thought, “Forget me, I’m in a Trenton uniform, I’m going to help the Trenton team win.” He signed every autograph for every kid…it was incredible. You walk away and say, “That’s why he’s special.”
John Flaherty, former Yankees catcher:
When I think of Derek I think of a postseason at-bat. I can’t remember exactly which game it was. But I remember standing on the railing and Derek having this brutal, brutal swing. Completely fooled, looked terrible. And when he stepped out of the box and kind of looked into our dugout he started laughing. And in my mind, right away it clicked—this is why this guy is such a great performer in the big moment because the big moment is never that big to him. I couldn’t have told you if it was a spring training at-bat or a World Series at-bat (based on his reaction). That’s what makes him so great—it doesn’t matter. He’s going to give you the same at-bat, he’s going to be relaxed. And that moment it clicked in for me why he’s so good in a big spot.
I knew my personality was different (in the postseason) and I wasn’t even playing. I’ve seen great players—you could tell by the look in their eye, they’re feeling (the pressure) and Derek just never felt it, there was no stress. That moment is the one I’m always going to remember. Obviously there were all the great plays and being a great teammate and all that stuff, but that moment told me why he was good in a big spot.
Aaron Boone, former Yankees third baseman:
He’s as confident a player as I ever played with, in a good way—in the best kind of way. When I came over I knew he was a good player, but almost immediately I realized this guy is an unbelievable player. Whether you always get the hit or not, unequivocally I’d say, “I want it hit to him (in the field) and I want him up (at the plate)” because I just knew he’d be as big as any moment.
He is a guy that there’s just a genuine confidence about him that between the lines always shined through to me. You can just sense it sometimes, when the going got tough, it’s almost like he hunkered down a little more. You sensed he was rising up, always. I always felt that way.
Larry Bowa, former Yankees third base coach:
He used to say this to Robby Cano all the time … Robby would get two or three hits and be really digging himself, and Jete’s favorite line is, “Stay humble, Robby.” He says that (to everybody), and I even say that now to kids, “Hey, stay humble.” And they look at me, and I say “if you want to know what that’s all about, Derek Jeter is where I first heard that.”
Mark Teixeira, Yankees first baseman:
I have a friend, Lee Thompson, who travels a lot. He’s in the furniture business. When we were in Chicago a couple years back, he met me at the hotel and we went out to dinner. Derek was going out to dinner with Michael Jordan. I said, “Jete, you know what makes us different? When I go to Chicago I go out to eat with a furniture salesman. When you go to Chicago you go out to eat with Michael Jordan.” That’s a good player. He likes to stay out of the limelight, but every now and then, we have to remind him that he’s not like the rest of us.
David Robertson, Yankees pitcher:
The memory that sticks in my head would have to be 2009 when we were playing against the Marlins in Miami. I’m pitching, it’s about 110 degrees outside, I’m scuffling, but I ended up getting through the inning in part because Jeter does his patented backhand in the hole jump throw, and as he’s throwing it across the field I’m thinking, “Holy Cow, I am watching this happen on the field! This is Derek Jeter doing the patented jump throw while I’m pitching and he’s saving my butt.” It was like slow motion happening, it was really incredible. I mean, how many guys can say that?
Phil Hughes, former Yankees pitcher:
I remember after Game 1 of the World Series in 2009, we lost to Philadelphia, and he came out after the game and said, “So what? So what, guys?” And I think everybody was, not distraught, but concerned and down, all those feelings you’d have after losing Game 1 of the World Series and he was like “So what guys? We’ll get ‘em tomorrow.” And I think hearing it from him because he had had so many before that was kind of reassuring. I think a lot of guys in that room who hadn’t played in that situation before could kind of let that get to them too much. So hearing how calm and under control he was and not being too concerned about it really was great.
It speaks to everything he’s done. You know you’ve had a pretty good career when you lose Game 1 of the World Series and you’re like, “So what? Who cares? They’re seven-game series for a reason.”
Nick Swisher, former Yankees outfielder:
I’ll never forget the first day that I walked into the (Yankee Stadium ) clubhouse … I walk in and the first thing I do is I see Derek’s locker, and I’m like “Wow! This is it, man, this is it.” Everything that he taught me, man, from being a winner, how to conduct yourself on and off the field, how to go about being a good guy…everything he did I watched! He’s not a loud guy, he’s a lead by example guy … I’ll never forget one thing he told me one spring when I was like “How was your offseason?” and he said “Too long.” Because this cat was used to being in the World Series every single year, so I think that really kind of stuck with me.
Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees outfielder:
One thing that left the biggest impression on me was in the playoffs against Detroit when he got hurt (2012), he was in a little room (behind the clubhouse) and he and I were just sitting there. Usually Derek is the most upbeat person, always saying “Get ‘em tomorrow, another game tomorrow” stuff like that, always a real positive influence. But that night was the first time that I saw him say, “I don’t have a game tomorrow.” Seeing Derek Jeter like that was a moment that I’ll never forget.
He’s the type that even if he’s hurting or struggling or feeling down, he never shows it and he always makes other people feel good by being positive and wanting that positive influence on others. And that moment, when he got hurt, he was basically saying “I’m done for the season.” And seeing that—I knew he was a human being, but to see him in that state I thought “he’s like us, he does have those moments, that he does feel down.” He expressed that feeling to me that night and that was very impressionable to me.
Jack Curry, co-author of Jeter’s 2000 autobiography, “The Life You Imagine”:
I remember spending a day with Jeter and his dad in Kalamazoo in 1997. He was doing some charitable appearances. And we got to a hospital where he was going to visit some kids. And he was a little unnerved by it…he thought it was going to be uncomfortable. And then as soon as he walked through that door, anything he said before we got through the door went out the window. He was as comfortable with those kids as you could imagine. There was a little 18 month old girl who had a plastic play kitchen. She didn’t know who Derek Jeter was, but he got down and played with her on the floor and played with her little toys. There was another little kid there wearing a Dallas Cowboys shirt and he teased him about being a Cowboys fan. And I just thought that it showed how much this guy got it and understood that he was there to brighten up their day a little bit and even if it made him uncomfortable he was going to figure out a way to do something for them.
Don Mattingly, former Yankees captain and coach:
Every at-bat was the same. In the postseason, regular season, second inning, third inning, ninth inning with the game on the line—all the same. He never got away from who he was or what he did. And you never saw a change in the type of at-bat he took. He was always trying to do the same things. He was staying exactly with his approach and what he was trying to do. And that, as I look back, is probably the most amazing thing about Derek.
On Monday, we heard some first impressions — good and bad — of No. 2 from around baseball. Jeter week continues Wednesday with stories from the opposition.
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