TAMPA—He called it a “media availability,” not a press conference, because Derek Jeter did not want his official first day of the last season of his career to be a billboard to his first person pronoun. At one point, he suggested to his teammates present that they could and should go ahead, leave and get out to work on the fields.
When he was asked about how he wants this season to end, not surprisingly he said, “I hope we win it all. That’s what we’re all here to do. Win. That’s all that’s important.”
That is who he is. Three years ago, privately, I asked him if one season stood out as his best as a major league player. “1996, 98, 99, 2000, 2009” he replied. The years the Yankees won world championships with him playing shortstop.
Besides practicing with daily, consistent diligence, one of the lessons young players can and should take from Derek is that his I’s will never be too close together. When he talked about what he’d like to do after baseball, he briefly mentioned his Turn 2 Foundation, but did not dwell on it. He mentioned wanting to raise a family, but when I started to ask a question about that, he laughed and said, “I’m not sure you want to go there.” The question was a reference to something his University of Michigan recruiter Ace Adams said—“the best parents I’ve ever met, including my own”—but the fact that Derek had a light exchange moment spoke volumes about his peace.
After he was done his couple of one-on-one interviews, he hung for a few minutes, completely relaxed and happy, his arm around some, smiling. This is a man who for 20 years has been the face of baseball, especially the face of baseball in New York playing for the greatest franchise in sports history, and has guarded his privacy as if it were a CIA file. Now he has looked at retirement and decided that while “I have never been happy not playing,” realizes it’s time. That there’s more.
Whether it’s his teammates or the Steinbrenner family or those whose values he quietly shares, the day Derek Jeter began his final season was first and foremost about respect, respect for those around him, respect for the game, respect for the human condition. There won’t be a Derek Farewell Tour, there will not be speeches and tearful goodbyes, because it isn’t about him, it is about winning and competing and, most of all, respect.