Prodigy: The Derek Jeter Story

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Prodigy: The Derek Jeter Story
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

“Derek Jeter is a six-tool player. I’ve never eaten with him, so I can’t tell you if he has good table manners, but I imagine he has those, too.” Former Texas Rangers manager Johnny Oates said this about Derek Jeter in 1999.

 

There simply aren’t enough great words to describe Jeter. Leader. Professional. Respectful. Dignified. These are all words that express not only the type of baseball player Jeter is, but the man he has become.

 

 

Humble Beginnings

 

He was born Derek Sanderson Jeter on June 26, 1974 in Pequannock Township, NJ. Baseball was always in his blood, as was his future team. His father, Dr. Charles Jeter, played baseball at Fisk University in Tennessee. Ironically enough, Charles manned the shortstop post, the same position Jeter would take on years later.

 

“My dad had been a shortstop when he was in college,” Jeter once remarked. “And you know, when you’re a kid, you want to be just like your dad.”

 

Although his dad got him into baseball, his grandmother was the person responsible for corrupting Jeter into a Yankee fan. After he became a passionate fan of the New York Yankees, Jeter idolized Dave Winfield, and has cited Winfield as an inspiration.

 

The Jeter family lived in North Arlington, NJ but moved out to Kalamazoo, MI when Derek was five years old. After playing Little League, Jeter moved on to become a rising star at Kalamazoo Central high school.

 

In his sophomore year, he batted .557 while averaging .508 with seven homers and 23 RBI as a junior. For his outstanding year, Jeter captured the B’nai B’rith American Baseball Coaches Association Award, and was named USA Today’s High School Player of the Year.

 

Jeter would go on to get inducted into Kalamazoo High School’s Athletic Hall of Fame in Dec. of 2003 for the types of years he posted in high school.

 

With his star on the rise, Jeter would graduate Kalamazoo Central high school and go on to attend the University of Michigan. After merely one semester, the young Jeter was picked sixth by the Yankees in the 1992 Major League Baseball draft.

 

With a serious life choice to be made, Jeter chose to go professional, but did promise to one day go back to college.  

 

Jeter began playing in the Rookie League before advancing to the Single-A minor league level. He stayed there for two years, picking up a number of various awards, including the title of Most Outstanding Major League Prospect.

 

In 1994, Jeter was named Minor League Player of the Year, hitting .344 with five home runs, 68 RBI, and 50 stolen bases. With his combined numbers through the Yankees’ farm system elevated, Jeter was also bestowed the honor of Most Valuable Player by the Florida State League.

 

With minor league accolades in place, Jeter was finally ready to fulfill a lifelong dream, make history, and make his mark on the baseball world.

 

 

Call to the Majors, Rookie of the Year, and the First Title

 

On May 29, 1995, Jeter got the call to the show. He made his MLB debut against the Seattle Mariners at the Kingdome. He did not pick up a hit in his first game, but recorded his first hit the very next day off Seattle hurler Tim Belcher.

 

Jeter started 13 games from the shortstop position in ’95 while playing a total of 15 games. However, he was sent back down to the minor leagues before the end of the season. Despite the option back to the minors, Jeter would return to play shortstop for the Yankees in 1996, never to be demoted again.

 

On opening day ’96, Jeter started at shortstop, where he remains to this day without ever really giving up the position. He crushed his first major league home run that day, while former Yankee shortstop legend Phil Rizzuto called it from the broadcasting booth. Rizzuto was the person who said he saw something special in Jeter.  

 

Having a breakout campaign, Jeter had 183 hits in his first full year, including 25 doubles and six triples. He smacked 10 home runs, drove in 78 runs, and averaged .314 at the plate.

 

With great numbers in place, Jeter went on to unanimously win the 1996 Rookie of the Year Award, becoming the first Yankee to capture the award since Dave Righetti in 1981, and only the eighth Yankee in history to obtain the honor.   

 

“Unanimously? I think I had some family helping me out with the voting,” Jeter jokingly told the New York Times after learning about winning the award. 

 

Jeter easily beat out James Baldwin of the Chicago White Sox for Rookie of the Year with 140 points to Baldwin’s 64.

 

With the spectacular season the Yankees had in 1996, Jeter was in for his first of many playoff appearances.

 

In stunning fashion, Jeter was involved in one of the more memorable moments from the 1996 American League Championship Series.

 

At Yankee Stadium against the Baltimore Orioles in game one, Jeter lifted a fly ball to deep right field. With the ball tailing away but undoubtedly not leaving the yard, a 12-year-old fan by the name of Jeffery Maier reached over the wall with his baseball glove and pulled Jeter’s inevitable fly-out to a home run.

 

Orioles’ right fielder Tony Tarasco vehemently argued with the umpire, but to no avail. The ball was ruled a goner, the Yankees would eventually go on to win the game in 11 innings, and take the series four games to one. Jeter always had a certain philosophy about that particular play against Baltimore in the ALCS.

 

“Well…I told Tarasco he should’ve leapt for it,” Jeter once said with a smile on his face.  

Getting past the O’s, the Yankees went on to play the Atlanta Braves in the ’96 World Series. Jeter clipped together a decent Series for a rookie, averaging .250 at the dish, collecting five fall classic hits in 20 at-bats with one RBI and five runs scored.

 

To this day, Jeter sees the 1996 World Series as the most endearing memory as a baseball player.

 

“Anytime you win at home it is special, but winning the 1996 World Series stands out because it’s the first time we did it,” Jeter said to the Daily News.

 

 

Shaping his Career and Dynasty Years

 

In his second year, Jeter would piece together more good numbers. He matched his home run total from ’96 with 10, added 190 hits with 70 RBI, and an average of .291. Jeter also proved he could play defense in ’97, notching a .975 fielding percentage with 244 put-outs from the shortstop post.

 

Unfortunately, the Yankees were unsuccessful in going back to the World Series to defend their crown in ’97 losing in the American League Division Series to the Cleveland Indians. But Jeter and the Bronx Bombers would be back in the fall classic sooner than they thought.

 

The Yankees defied logic in 1998, winning an astounding 114 games during the regular season. Jeter served as the number two hitter, typically behind Chuck Knoblauch and Paul O’Neill.

 

He batted .324 for the year with 19 long balls and 84 RBI. In addition to the basic numbers, he recorded 200 hits for the first time in his career, reaching base safely 203 times.

 

For his brilliant showing both offensively and defensively, Jeter was selected to his first All-Star team in 1998. He would later go on to make nine All-Star appearances.

 

Reaching the fall classic for the second time in three years, the Bombers squared off with the San Diego Padres in ’98 World Series. Jeter raised his average to .353 in the World Series that year, collecting six hits in 17 at-bats.

 

He drove in another World Series run while scoring four more, en route to the Yankees brooming the Pad’s in four games.

 

The beat would go on in 1999, as Jeter compiled arguably the greatest season of his life. He averaged a career-best .349 at the plate, coupled with career-highs in home runs with 24 and RBI with 102.

 

He became the second Yankee shortstop in history to drive in as many runs, and he led the American League in the hits category with 219.

 

Once again reaching the pinnacle of baseball, the Yankees met the team they had beaten in 1996, the Atlanta Braves, in a rematch in the ’99 World Series.

 

Jeter went on to match his average from the previous World Series, batting .353 at the plate in the ’99 fall classic. He garnered six hits with an RBI and a run scored, as the Yankees once again swept their way to a World Series victory.

 

2000 was somewhat of an off-year for the Yanks, as they went 87-74 for the campaign, the worst record they had posted in recent years. Jeter kept his head up, averaging .339 at the dish with 15 round-trippers and 73 RBI.

 

Jeter was also selected to the All-Star team for the third time in his career over that summer, and made a huge impact in the game. Jeter had three hits, two RBI, and two runs scored. He became the first Yankee in history to ever win the All-Star game MVP award.

 

The Yankees would gain enough success at the end of the 2000 season to yet again reach the World Series. This time they would face their cross-town rivals, the New York Mets.

 

Jeter jumped out in front of everyone in the fall classic, averaging .409 with nine hits in 22 at-bats. He smashed two home runs, including a leadoff long ball in Game Four. With the Yankees crushing the Mets in five games, and earning their 26th World Title, Jeter was named World Series MVP.

 

Jeter was and still is the only player to win the All-Star game MVP award and the World Series MVP in the same year.

 

 

Mr. November and Yankee Captain

 

Coming off the 2000 Championship campaign, Jeter had another stellar year. He batted .311 in 2001, clubbing 21 homers and knocking in 74 runs. With the Yankees keeping up their winning ways, they found themselves in the playoffs for the seventh straight year.

 

Jeter had always shown his offensive skills, but his defensive prowess was put to the test in the American League Championship Series against the Oakland Athletics.

 

In Game Three with Jeremy Giambi on first base, Terrence Long hit a double down the right field line. Yankee outfielder Shane Spencer retrieved the ball, but wildly missed his cutoff man, first baseman Tino Martinez.  

 

With Giambi rounding third and the ball trickling down the first base line, Jeter came far out of position, snatched the ball, and shuffle passed it to catcher Jorge Posada like a quarterback handing off the ball to running back.

 

Giambi was meat at home plate for a series-saving out. The Yankees were facing elimination in that game, but went on to win because of Jeter’s show of mental excellence. 

 

The World Series saw the Yankees face the Arizona Diamondbacks, and it proved to be a memorable showcase. Although baseball was not the focal point of 2001, as the United States was in mourning over the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11th, the Yankees were back in the spotlight of the fall classic.

 

Trying to offer a condolence to the city of New York, the Yankees won Game Three after losing games one and two.

 

But Jeter’s big moment would come in Game Four. In a tied 3-3 game, Jeter came to bat in the bottom of the 10th.

 

With the Yankee Stadium clock striking midnight, and the World Series being played for the first time in the month of November, the world looked on as Jeter slaughtered a game-winning, walk-off home run into the short porch in right field off D’Back’s closer Byung-Hyun Kim.

 

The Yankees won the game 4-3, and evened the series up at two games apiece.

 

“I have never hit a walk-off home run before, not in little league or in high school,” Jeter said after the game. “When I first hit it, I had no idea whether it was going to go out, but once it did, it was a pretty special feeling.”

 

It was because of this timely home run that Jeter basically established himself as one of the game’s most dominant clutch hitters.

 

And because it was the first time there was November baseball, and Jeter smacked the game-winner, he was given the nickname “Mr. November.” Of course, Reggie Jackson, another Yankee legend, was given the nickname "Mr. October" after putting on a hitting show in the 1977 World Series.

 

Jackson was in attendance for game four of the ’01 World Series, and even chatted with Jeter before the game outside the batting cage. Little did he know he would share a“Mr. Month nickname” with Jeter before the beginning of the soon-to-be classic game.

 

Unfortunately the Yankees would fall to the D’Backs in seven games, but the ’01 fall classic will never be forgotten, and neither will Mr. November.

 

Jeter would add to his list of accolades on June 3, 2003. George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the Yankees, named Jeter the Captain of the New York Yankees.

 

He became the first captain since Don Mattingly was given the title in 1985, and only the 11th team Captain in the Yankee history. Being the captain, he joined the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Thurman Munson who preceded him.

 

The day he was named Captain, Jeter issued this statement: “This is a great honor. Captain of the New York Yankees is not a title that is thrown around lightly. It is a huge responsibility and one that I take very seriously. I thank Mr. Steinbrenner for having such confidence in me.”

Despite missing some time before the start of the campaign with a dislocated shoulder, Jeter led by example in 2003. He matched his 1998 average with .324, clubbed 10 homers, and drove in 52 runs in the 119 games he played in. The Yankees once again made the playoffs, and it was an extraordinary ALCS matchup.

 

The Yankees met their arch-enemies, the Boston Red Sox in the final round of the playoffs before the World Series. In an effort to reverse the Curse of the Bambino, the Red Sox were ahead of the Yankees by a score of 5-2 in the eighth inning, needing only five defensive outs from reaching the World Series.

 

Jeter came up to the plate in the bottom of the eighth and smacked a double, igniting a Yankee rally that would eventually tie the game, 5-5.

 

With the heavyweight battle going past nine innings and into the bottom of the 11th inning, Aaron Boone slaughtered the glorious home run over the left field wall in Yankee Stadium to break the Sox’ hearts, beating them 6-5, and sending the Yanks to the fall classic yet again.

 

After the game, Jeter felt the Yankees received some divine intervention.

 

“I believe in ghosts,” Jeter said to the press. “We have some ghosts in this Stadium!”

 

Jeter and the Yankees truly believed that God and the spirit of Babe Ruth were looking out for them on that cold, October night in New York. And after the win during the celebration, the Yankee team led by Jeter, went out to the Babe’s monument to thank him.

 

The Yanks faced the Florida Marlins in the ’03 World Series. Jeter once again proved his post-season worth, scattering nine hits in 26 at-bats, good for a .346 average. He added two more World Series RBI to his resume, along with five more runs scored.

 

Unable to catch the Fish, the Yankees lost the Series in six games despite Jeter’s exceptional fortitude.

 

 

Heroics and the Here and Now

 

Finding success following the World Series loss to Florida, Jeter took the 2004 season on by storm. He nearly matched his career-high home run total, hitting 23 for the season with a .292 batting average and 78 RBI.

 

Along with picking up his first of three career Gold Glove Awards for his defensive prowess, he also set a career high in two base hits, hitting 44 doubles on the year. In addition to that, he was second in the American League in runs with 122, and finished second in batting average on balls in play with .394.

 

Perhaps his most super-heroic display came on July 1 of the ’04 season. Locked in a heated, 3-3 game against the Red Sox at home, Trot Nixon stood at the plate with runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the 12th inning.

 

Nixon popped a fly ball toward the third base corner, forcing Jeter to run for the ball.

 

As fast as the Flash, Jeter sprinted over towards third base and caught the ball on the move. With nowhere to go and arms outstretched like Superman, Jeter flew over the third base railing and into the stands, completing the catch and ending the inning.

 

A wounded soldier, Jeter came up bloody, battered, and bruised, and was forced to leave the game. In good news for Jeter, the Yankees won the game by a count of 5-4.

 

But all good things must come to an end, as the Yankees had a forgettable post season in ’04. Up three games to none over the Red Sox, the Bombers suffered an unfathomable collapse, dropping four straight games in the ALCS, and losing four games to three.

 

The Red Sox would go on to win the World Series as the Yankees could only watch them reverse the curse. Coming off the upsetting meltdown against Boston, Jeter quickly put the Red Sox back in their place in 2005.

 

At the start of the season on Apr. 5, Jeter came up in the bottom of the ninth at Yankee Stadium and delivered a walk-off home run off Red Sox’ closer Keith Foulke, saving the day and beating the BoSox, 4-3.

 

After the game, he was given the moniker “Captain Clutch.”

 

Overall in ’05, Jeter raised his average to .309 while blasting 19 homers and knocking in 70 runs along the way. The Yankees did not make it past the first round of the playoffs in ’05, the first time they failed to make it past the ALDS since 2002.

 

Being a very proud individual, Jeter always holds his words about winning.

 

“If you’re going to play at all, play to win,” he theorizes. “Baseball, board games, Jeopardy...I hate to lose.”

 

In 2006, Jeter once again showed off his amazing skills. He hit 14 homers, knocked in 97 runs, while batting .343. He came so close to owning the batting title, losing out to Joe Mauer of the Twins.

 

He also finished second in the American League MVP voting to another Twin, falling short of the honor to Justin Morneau.

 

Up till ’06, Jeter finished in the top 10 in the MVP balloting six out the 11 full seasons he had already played.

 

The final season of Yankee Stadium came in 2008. While ’08 started off somewhat inauspicious for Jeter, as he was heavily criticized for his defense, he kept his head in the game and his focus on winning.

 

Jeter responded to his critics by saying, “I play in New York. Criticism is part of the game, and you have to take criticism as a challenge.”

 

Defensively in 2008, Jeter held a .979 fielding percentage with 220 put-outs, and only committed 18 errors in 148 games.

 

On the offensive side of things, Jeter Batted .300 in ’08 with 11 homers and 69 RBI in 150 games. He also gained personal acclaim, tying Gehrig on the list for most hits in Yankee Stadium with 1,269.

 

The Yankee Captain eventually broke the Iron Horse’s record on Sept. 16, getting a hit off White Sox pitcher Gavin Floyd. He will now go down in history as the player with the most hits in the original Yankee Stadium.

 

On Sept. 21, after the Yankees finished off the Baltimore Orioles by a count of 7-4, Yankee Stadium took its final bow. There was only one man to give the Stadium its final send-off address and of course, it was Jeter.

 

“It's a lot of tradition, a lot of history, and a lot of memories. Now the great thing about memories is that you get to pass them along from generation to generation," Jeter said to the capacity crowd.

 

"We are relying on you (the fans) to take the memories from this Yankee Stadium, add them onto the memories of the new Yankee Stadium, and continue to pass them along."

 

 

The Future and Legacy

 

On Mar. 3, 2009, Jeter achieved something that no other player could ever dream of.

 

Representing the United States as the team Captain in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, the Yankees played an exhibition against Team USA. Jeter chose to play against his beloved team, and stood with team U.S.A.

 

Jeter told Yankees.com after making the decision, “It’ll be fun. It’ll be funny.”

 

 He is probably the only player that can ever claim to be the Captain of two teams playing each other in the same exact game. With Jeter on their side, Team U.S.A. closely edged the Yankees in the exhibition, 6-5.

 

With the Bronx Bombers heading into the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, Jeter is primed and hopeful to get back to the promised land of the fall classic.

 

Derek Jeter. He is a man that personifies the word “class.” He was Rookie of the Year. He is a four time World Series Champion. A World Series MVP. A nine-time All-Star and former All Star game MVP. He’s won three gold gloves. He’s won Silver Slugger Awards, and the Hank Aaron Award.

 

But how does he want to be remembered by his legions of fans?

 

“I want to be remembered as someone who had a lot of respect for the game, his teammates, and opponents, and I want to be remembered as a winner,” he has stated.

 

“But most importantly, I want to be remembered as a Yankee.”

 

In terms of what he accomplished, and what he will continue to do, there is no doubt that Jeter will go down in the history of baseball as being one of the greatest, if not, the greatest and most respected player ever.

 

Jeter is a person that commands respect, and has earned it by his fans, colleagues, and friends through his words and actions. The number two he wears on his back game after game will unquestionably be sitting behind the outfield wall someday alongside the other Yankee legends when his career is said and done.

 

The man that Derek Jeter has become means more than any title he’s ever held, any accolade he’s ever received, and any World Series ring he can wear on his finger.

 

The fans that saw Joe DiMaggio play said, “Our kids will tell their kids about him.”

 

Without a shadow of a doubt, 50 years from now, our kids will be telling their kids of Derek Jeter, The Yankee Captain. The consummate professional. The dignified ballplayer. The classy man.

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