Jeter elated to share feat with parents
Their support, guidance shaped Yankees star's character
NEW YORK -- In the hours after Derek Jeter tied Lou Gehrig on the Yankees' all-time hit list Wednesday, Jeter spoke of two people who had been camped out in New York all week, watching his every at-bat since Monday.
"They've always been supportive of me in everything I've done," Jeter said of his father, Dr. Charles Jeter, and his mother Dorothy. "It means a lot for me to be able to share the experience with them, so I'm happy that I'm able to do it here at home."
Fans will be able to follow the journey as well. MLB.com will carry all of Jeter's at-bats live until he passes Gehrig.
Jeter's parents will remain in New York as long it takes for him to become the Yankees' all-time hit king. Just as various managers and hitting coaches have helped mold Jeter the hitter throughout the past two decades, Charles and Dorothy have molded Jeter the person.
And Jeter's steady leadership and classy persona have never been ignored within the Yankees family.
His manicured public image and the polished commentary that helps to craft it are just as recognizable as the way he digs into the batter's box, his right hand extended and requesting time from the umpire, or the classic jump-throw to first base from deep onto the outfield grass.
Since arriving on the big league scene as a full-time player in 1996, Jeter has commanded a certain respect throughout the game, earning laudatory praise from within the Yankees organization and around the Major Leagues. In an era where superstar athletes have struggled to adjust to the exponential growth of media coverage, Jeter has remained above the fray.
"I don't think it's a situation where I'm mindful of it because of what I'm doing," Jeter said. "How I am is how I am. It's not like I'm trying to be a certain way just because I'm playing baseball.
"I pretty much think I've been the same person since Day 1, so I don't look at it as though I've changed. I think you learn more throughout the years, but I try to think that I'd be the same way regardless of what I'm doing."
Jeter's strong makeup has often been credited to his family values. Jeter's parents worked to ensure that their children would grow up with the character to allow them to be successful, no matter what career paths they followed.
Long before Jeter made his first dollar as a professional athlete, he was under contract -- to his parents, who had him sign a deal at the dawn of every school year in their Kalamazoo, Mich., home, outlining his academic goals and curfews. For the most part, Jeter attacked those tasks with the same discipline he does Major League pitching today.
All-time Yankees hit leaders
|Derek Jeter passed Lou Gehrig and now has the most hits by a Yankee. Here are the top 10 Yankees leaders in hits.|
He did pretty well attacking the pitching in high school, as well, batting .508 (30-for-59) as a senior and .557 as a junior. He was elected into the Kalamazoo Central High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.
"From interviewing some of the people who knew Jeter since he was in high school, I think Jeter was preparing himself to be who he has become back then," said Jack Curry, a New York Times baseball reporter who collaborated with Jeter on his 2001 autobiography, "The Life You Imagine."
"Even if Jeter was 'Derek Jeter, accountant,' today instead of 'Derek Jeter, Yankee shortstop,' I think he would still have the same kind of personality. Jeter has repeatedly said that he didn't want to make mistakes in his life because he didn't want to disappoint his parents. While some people say that just to say it, I think Jeter said it and actually lives it."
It just so happened that Jeter realized his childhood dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees, not that it happened overnight. There were tearful telephone calls home in the summer of 1993, when Jeter committed 56 errors in a Minor League season and wondered if he could make it. The discussions these days are more confident, but the phone still rings without fail.
"Every day we talk," Jeter said. "I think everyone needs people in their lives that are going to be honest with them. My parents aren't going to tell me necessarily what I want to hear, you know what I mean? They're going to give me their honest opinion. They're the first ones that I go to about anything if I need advice or help in any situation."
The job description -- star shortstop for the New York Yankees -- comes with unlimited distractions and temptations. Jeter has certainly had his taste, keeping city paparazzi busy for years with an unintentionally high-profile dating life. Jeter never asked for that spotlight, but he understands that it's part of the package, and so he has adapted.
"A big part of Derek is his honesty of his feelings," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, Jeter's manager from 1996 through 2007. "He'll never look for an alibi if he didn't have success. He speaks honestly. He doesn't have prepared remarks. He doesn't concern himself with how it comes out. He speaks from the heart.
"Pretty much what he says is right on. Nowadays we spend so much time with TV highlights and a lot of our communication smacks of hokeyness. That's not Derek."
Team-by-team hit leaders
|Here is a look at the hit leaders for all 30 Major League clubs, through games of Sept. 11, 2009:|
|Red Sox||Carl Yastrzemski*||3,419|
|Orioles||Cal Ripken Jr.*||3,184|
|White Sox||Luke Appling*||2,749|
|Blue Jays||Tony Fernandez||1,583|
|* Member of the Hall of Fame|
Jorge Posada, arguably Jeter's closest friend on the Yankees, agrees on the topic of why Jeter has been able to maintain his positive public image for so long in the media capital of the world.
"Great parents and he's well-thought," Posada said. "He thinks about everything before he does it. I don't think he wants to embarrass the organization or embarrass himself and his parents. He thinks about everything."
And he has been able to laugh at himself. When George Steinbrenner came down on Jeter for enjoying New York too much one night during the 2002 season, they filmed a memorable credit card commercial together in May 2003 that ended with the shortstop and the principal owner dancing in the same conga line.
Soon after, Steinbrenner made a snap decision during an Interleague series in Cincinnati and awarded Jeter the Yankees' captainship, a leadership role he continues to take great pride in.
"I think if you're in the position you're in, you should take it seriously," Jeter said. "I think you also have to be who you are. I don't think you can try to fool people. In time, the truth will come out, so I never try to act a certain way. I just act how I am as a person. You try to be positive, but I don't think you can fool people for an extended period of time."
Joe Girardi, the Yankees' current manager and a former teammate of Jeter's, said that he remembers quickly seeing something special in the young infielder.
"Very early on, you could see that his character was of very high standard," Girardi said. "When you have that type of character and that type of ability, you usually become a leader.
"You've got to compliment his parents and the job they did raising him. The bottom line was that he had to make the good decisions. You could see right away, time after time, he made good decisions in his life. You've got to compliment Mom and Dad."
Jeter has not been shy about imparting his advice and lessons learned to others. During the World Baseball Classic in March, Jeter struck up a friendship with the Mets' David Wright, the fresh iconic face of a New York franchise -- just as Jeter once was.
Jeter said that Wright may have learned the same valuable survival tool as he once did across town in the Bronx -- to learn to say no when necessary and create time for yourself.
"There's a lot of people that may want you to do this or do that, but there's only one you," Jeter said. "You can only do so much. The one thing you have to remember is, the No. 1 priority is to play baseball. That's your job.
"You're going to be pulled in a lot of different directions, and people are going to want this from you and want that from you. You have to realize what your priority is."
Though gossip columnists delight in detailing his reported current relationship with actress Minka Kelly, as Jeter reaches the halfway marker of his second decade as a New York public figure, there have been no major scandals, no one example of a crisis that demanded the attention of a Hollywood agency to smooth over. That has not happened by accident.
"I'm not that different than anybody else," Jeter said. "I think one of the things that's important is to surround yourself with good people, you know what I mean? A lot of times, I think you look at people that get in trouble and make some wrong decisions and a lot of times, it's the people that surround them and get them into trouble.
"I just think you have to be conscious of who's around, and that's the biggest thing. But that goes for anyone."