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Jeter reveals new side as he nears 3,000
This time, he avoided the platitudes and generalities. For once, he let us peek behind the neatly polished armor that protects his pristine image.
On the night he climbed within four hits of 3,000, Derek Jeter told us what was on his mind. He did it on his terms, because he is too smart to have done so otherwise. He didn’t sound angry. He didn’t take it too far. He didn’t name names.
But by Jeter’s understated standards, it was stunning.
The revealing question came from a reporter who asked, simply, whether Jeter is enjoying all of this.
There was no need to explain what this meant. Jeter knew. This is the hype, the history, the attention, the reporters, the cameras — partially because of the coming milestone, but mostly because of who he is.
“I mean,” Jeter started, “I really haven’t been talking about this too much. There’s been other things in the media. It’s kind of hard to enjoy it when there’s a lot of negativity out there, so hopefully I might be able to enjoy these next few days.”
Later, Jeter was asked whether the negativity is really robbing him of a crowning career achievement.
“Well, like I said before, you’d like to enjoy it,” Jeter replied. “It has been difficult, you know, when I’m constantly asked questions that are a little bit different. But to be honest with you, I’m going to try to enjoy it from now on and try to keep things as positive as we can.”
In other words: George Brett didn’t have to deal with this crap.
No member of the 3,000-hit club has been squeezed so tightly by the public/media vise. How do I know that? Well, no player has reached 3,000 hits while playing for the New York Yankees. And no player has reached 3,000 hits while playing in the Twitter Era. Jeter would probably tell us that immense pressure and unbridled joy are not easily experienced at the same time.
There's no need to parse his every sentence. But the four words that stuck out to me were a little bit different. Basically, Jeter was admitting (a) he’s well aware of the pundits and fans who believe he’s finished and (b) he doesn’t appreciate their noise.
Jeter must understand, however, that he offered ample fuel to his detractors with what was, based on his recent performance, an outrageous set of contract demands last offseason. The contract he signed — three years, $51 million — carries an expected level of production that almost certainly exceeds what his 37-year-old body can offer. He’s responsible for that. So are the Yankees.
And it bears mentioning that part of Jeter’s present unease with the media comes from a source he himself has authorized. He agreed to cooperate with HBO and Major League Baseball Productions on “DEREK JETER 3K” — an all-access, documentary-style special that will air after he reaches the milestone. Cameras have filmed him in settings as private as Jeter’s home and as public as the Yankees’ dugout.
In the news release announcing the effort earlier Tuesday, Jeter was his usual, scripted self: “It has been a lot of fun working with HBO Sports and MLB Productions to capture this milestone in a special and unique way,” he said in the statement.
But during his postgame news conference — with, yes, MLB Productions present in the clubhouse — Jeter was less diplomatic.
“No, I’m not comfortable with it at all,” he answered. “I don’t know how people film reality shows, to be quite honest with you. I’m not comfortable.
“It was originally an idea I had to tape my family and friends at the game, if and when it happened. And then it turned into a little bit more.”
And then it turned into a little bit more. Kind of sums up the whole exercise, doesn’t it? The documentary isn’t quite what he expected. The chase for 3,000 (delayed three weeks by a calf injury and sullied by questions about his .257 average) isn’t quite what he expected. Come to think of it, the acrimony with the team during the winter wasn’t what he expected, either.
This isn’t Derek Jeter, triumphant hero.
This is Derek Jeter, who suddenly and quite humanly feels like people are picking on him.
Jeter’s best insights Tuesday weren't about his 2-for-6 night, the American League East race or even whether he will play in Wednesday’s series finale (a pressing topic related to whether No. 3,000 arrives at home). Instead, he offered a subtle commentary on how we — journalists, spectators, Americans — view the celebrities who fascinate us.
There remains some mystery about Jeter, in part because he hasn’t stumbled in a manner that exposed personal flaws. He isn’t Tiger Woods. He isn’t Brett Favre. He isn’t Kobe Bryant. He is an anomaly. Such is the state of our society that the more you mess up — see Charlie Sheen — the more interesting you become. Compared with those who blur the line between fame and infamy, Jeter is kind of boring. But his reward for solid citizenship has been steady speculation about his impending professional demise, because he’s left us with no other avenue for criticism.
Some of it’s fair. Some of it isn’t. And with a few frank comments Tuesday, Jeter reminded us that he’s absorbed this level of scrutiny better than perhaps any other American athlete of his time.
Derek Jeter has been making the impossible look easy for 17 seasons.
And he’s a pretty good ballplayer, too.
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