By Sweeny Murti
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When Derek Jeter announced in February that he would retire at the end of the 2014 season, I began asking those around the game for their favorite Jeter stories, things that came to mind first when they thought about him.
Here is what they told me:
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox:
He’s the one player that I truly believe the game will miss. He’s a legend. It’s not like I’m going to play a whole bunch of years after he’s done, but I’m going to miss competing against him. He brought so much to the game, his personality. How big he is, but how humble he is at the same time. That caught my attention a lot. I’m not going to lie to you. I watch him doing things and I learn, and I’m pretty sure a lot of other players learn from him.
It’s hard in today’s game with all the negativity and all the things going on to keep going the way he does. He’s special. I see a lot of his interviews and there are a lot of questions going at him and he finds a way around to give that answer. Not the one that you (the media) want, but he gives the correct answer, you know what I’m saying? But besides that he’s way beyond what people expect from players.
He’s going to make it to the Hall of Fame in a way that nobody ever has. That’s the way I see it. You know how people always go around looking for something that we had done, or if something that we did is wrong or is right or whatever? Nobody has anything on Jeter. So I think it’s going to be different when it comes to his induction to the Hall of Fame. I think it’s going to be something special I don’t think we’re ever going to see again.
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox and Team USA:
We played a home run contest (during batting practice) at the (2009) WBC in Toronto. And if you didn’t hit a home run you had to do 20 push-ups. So, he didn’t hit a home run and he was kind of looking around like we weren’t going to make him do it. He hit first, and we’re like “20 push-ups!” So sure enough he got down and did them. It was pretty funny. That was pretty cool to see him do that. We were crushing him, it was pretty good.
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies and Team USA:
Two-thousand-nine WBC, back then it was us (Phillies) and the Mets, a battle of words— media and fans getting all into it. And (in the Team USA clubhouse) David Wright is sitting right there, and Jeter is next to David, and I’m sitting next to Jeter on the other side. David is in his locker, I walk in and I don’t say hello to him, he doesn’t say hello to me. Jeter walks in and goes over to his chair, and David and I are sitting just (real close) to each other, literally not saying a word. Jeter walked over to his chair and said, “Oh, I’m not getting in the middle of this,” and walks out, and everybody starts laughing. Ever since then me and David have been alright with each other … that’s DJ.
David Wright, New York Mets and Team USA:
That was at the time when Jimmy and I were kind of popping off back and forth to each other, and since then we’ve kind of buried the hatchet and actually are pretty close now and enjoy that kind of back and forth. Derek did a nice job kind of playing mediator and making a joke out of the whole thing.
Seeing how he deals with the celebrity part of it, I got a firsthand look at that (at the WBC). I took mental notes. The back of the baseball card speaks for itself but what he does to prepare, what he does as a leader will never be shown on the back of a baseball card, but it’s what makes him him.
I was very lucky as a young player in New York, what better person to try to mold your game after—from a leadership perspective, from a clubhouse perspective—than the guy across town who I get the chance to see somewhat regularly? So I was very fortunate from that aspect where I got a front row seat for how you’re supposed to act in the big leagues, how you’re supposed to carry yourself and go about your business.
(The celebrity) aspect of it has never come before the baseball side of it. It’s always been baseball first. It seems he’s never set out to be that celebrity, he’s always set out to be a great baseball player and the celebrity has just come along. And that’s one of the things I respect most about him.
Tim McCarver, Hall of Fame broadcaster:
When he first came up (to the majors) Don Zimmer told me that on balls that shortstops had to charge and stay down on, that Derek Jeter was the best he had ever seen at staying low and making the throw to first base, and that’s the one thing I’ve noticed all these years. Derek Jeter is by no means the best shortstop I’ve ever seen … but the one thing he can do is charge a ball, stay down, which is ultra-necessary when the ball stays down, and throw the runner out at first base. He has a knack for doing that.
And the one thing that I’ve learned to appreciate about him over the years is if you’re one of those naysayers that says he can’t do something, he’ll turn it around on you in a heartbeat. And that to me is a sign of a great personality and player. (His jump throw) I thought he should have planted (and threw). I said in my mind Derek is never gonna get a guy at first base. And he proved me wrong about five times in one season … where he jumped and I said “he did it, I can’t believe he did it.”
Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins:
All I know is Derek Jeter has been the main cog in sending my butt home a lot of times in the playoffs. Early exits. Let’s just call him Early Exit Man, because he did that to us quite a bit. He’s led that team forever, one of the most professional baseball players I’ve ever seen … always fun to watch, except when he’s killing us.
David Price, Tampa Bay Rays/Detroit Tigers:
We talked about (the 3,000th hit) at the All-Star Game in 2012. He told me there was no chance that he was walking (on a 3-2 count), that he was going to swing no matter what. If I had known that before I probably would have thrown a ball to the backstop and watched him swing.
He’s an elite competitor. I don’t feel like he’s ever really over-matched at the plate. He’s going to have quality at-bats at all times, even if he might be a little bit over-matched. It’s incredible to see him still being able to do that, at his age and everything he’s been through, it speaks volumes about his work ethic.
Torii Hunter, Twins/Angels/Tigers:
Every time we played against each other, we always have fun. He would get to second base and look in center field. He would point at his hamstring like he’s going to run, and I show him my arm like “I’m going to throw you out” and he’d say “Bet, bet!” So every time he’d either get held up at third because he knows I’m charging on the base hit up the middle, or he will try me and next thing you know I throw the ball to the left and he’s safe and he points out like, “Told you!”
So we always have these little challenges. One time in Minnesota (at the Metrodome), he was at first base, the ball was hit in the air and I pretended I lost it in the roof going “I can’t see it! I can’t see it!” So he’s out there in limbo and almost at second base, and then he was like, hold on Torii’s trying to trick me, so right when I was catching it he was running back, and I threw it and almost got him. And he was like, “C’mon man!”
And that’s something I’m going to miss, him having fun, cracking jokes with me. All these years I get to second base and we sit and talk about everything. He’s been nothing but great, a true professional … there’s not one negative thing that a player has to say on any team about Derek Jeter I’m pretty sure.
He’s somebody that if I had kids, which I do, I’d say, “Hey if you’re going to emulate anybody that’s the guy to emulate.”
Adam Jones, Seattle Mariners/Baltimore Orioles:
When I got my first (major league) hit in Yankee Stadium back in ’06, he came by me … and said, “Congratulations, hope for many more.” Things like that from such a star, small things like that don’t go unnoticed. And he says that to a lot of guys. I think that he makes rookies on the opposing team feel good, because they’re nervous as hell meeting him for the first time. I mean this is one of the icons of the game.
Over the years, he’s met my parents, and he generally asks me (when I get to second base) how my mom’s doing, just asking innocent, simple questions. But I tell my mom that and she’s like, “Wow, Derek Jeter’s thinking about me? He’s got so many other things on his plate.”
I’m going to miss that to be honest with you.
It’s small things like that and he always tells me, “Keep swinging, keep playing hard.” He loves the way I play the game, and those are just words of inspiration.
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers:
It was at an All-Star Game, I don’t remember which one it was. But guys like him you tend to watch a little bit more. It was one of my first All-Star Games … so you kind of watch him and the way he goes about his business. I thought one of the coolest things I’ve seen … you know when you’re at the All-Star Game, during batting practice, everyone kind of goes their cliquey way—you know, the starters, other guys, they’ve all got their own little groups and they’re in the outfield talking—he made it a point to go around and talk to everybody, into their group…young guys, old guys, didn’t matter, said “Hey congratulations, nice to meet you, I’m Derek, you’re having a great season.”
He went to everybody and did that, and I always thought that was a class act. He’s known as a classy player, the way he handles himself and takes care of himself, he holds himself to a high standard and I thought that was a pretty cool thing to do.
Paul Molitor, Hall of Famer/Minnesota Twins coach:
He has been so selfless about everything. When it’s all said and done he’s not going to worry about having to speak for himself, he knows what he’s accomplished will do that. But he’s always been a team- and win-first guy. It’s an easy thing to say in sports, it’s harder to have your heart in that place. Some people might say the right words but when you get to know them you know it’s not the way they feel. But for me it’s always been very genuine for him. He’s always been about going out there, playing the game, and doing what he can to help his team win that day.
What impressed me is … I was standing by the Twins dugout maybe six, seven, eight years ago, I hadn’t been in the game for a while as a player. When he came out to stretch on the other side of the field, he immediately wanted to come over and say hello. Now, everything he had accomplished and where he was in his career … I was impressed that he would take the time to respect someone who had played and was before him and take the initiative to greet me and say hello.
I texted him earlier this year when he passed me on the hits list, not because I thought it was that big a deal, because I know it’s not a big deal to him. But I just wanted to let him know that I was watching and I was a fan, and he sent back some very gracious words.
Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox:
There’s no play, no moment, none of that (that stands out to me). It’s all the same. It’s all been the same, looks the same, approaches the same, plays the same. I guess that is the special part. His approach at the plate, what he does is the same today as probably what it was 20 years ago. So that to me is the special moment.
The only time we get mentioned in the same sentence is, “That Paul Konerko—he’s no Derek Jeter (laughs).” But I guess I can relate a little bit to the fact that I’ve played 16 years with one team in a relatively big city. So I know everything that comes along with that. And I can’t imagine what he has to deal with being a Yankee for even more years, in this city and everything that comes along with that, and the fact that he handles himself with nothing but class. I’ve never heard a player say a bad thing about Derek Jeter. You combine all that, I think he’s the best … if there’s a category for just best big leaguer of all-time it’s him.
There have been other guys and other guys in New York, but they weren’t in the time that he did it. Now if someone comes along and has the career that Derek Jeter has and plays shortstop for the Yankees for 20 years I’ll give it to them. But for me, I think he’s played the toughest position in the toughest city in the most current generation, and you put it altogether I don’t think anybody’s done it any better than he has.
Terry Francona, Boston Red Sox/Cleveland Indians:
I go all the way back to ’94 when I was managing in the Arizona Fall League, so I saw him at a young age. I saw his game elevate pretty much from a young kid to a superstar in the major leagues, and while he was doing that you never saw his respect for the game waver.
I was fortunate enough in ’05 to be the manager of the All-Star team, and he wasn’t on it. And I found him at Fenway one day and I talked to him about it. Because as much as I didn’t have anything to say about it, I was disappointed because that was one of the things I looked forward to, was just to be able to say that I was a part of it with him, that’s how much I respect him.
At the 2008 All-Star Game (at Yankee Stadium) I remember looking down at the end of the dugout at the end of that long game (15 innings) and he never left. That also says a lot about him. A lot of guys take off and nobody bats an eyelash and he never left that dugout, and that speaks volumes about who he is.
On the way from the (All-Star parade) to Yankee Stadium that day I actually was sitting with his folks on the bus, they were sitting right behind me, and I got to spend half an hour with them. And if you spend two minutes with them you know that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
I’ve seen Derek for so long, and he wants to rip your heart out on the field, but if you’re a fan of baseball it’s hard not to be a fan of his. He’s so much about what’s good about our game.
When you’re playing against him you want him to have as little to do with the outcome of the game as possible. He’s not going to be out of position, he’s going to make the extra play as we’ve all seen him do. Especially as the game gets tighter he’s always in the right place, so you want him to have the least amount of say-so in the game as possible.
(The Dive) was probably him in a nutshell. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and that’s not luck.
First we heard some first impressions — both good and bad — of the five-time World Series champ. On Tuesday, current and former Yankees shared their favorite Jeter stories. Coming tomorrow, my own reflections on the captain.
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