The baseball season is a long and lonely road. To preserve his sanity, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter keeps a diary. These are excerpts from The Captain's private journal.
Wednesday, July 3: at Minnesota Twins
"You're going too hard," he told me. "I'm going to have to ease you off this for a while before you hurt yourself and undo all this progress."
You hate to admit it when someone who's trying to slow you down is right, because all you want to do is get out there every day and do everything you can to be the best you can be, but he was right.
So my journaling coach put me on a week of diary rest. Took away my laptop. And my Moleskine. All my pencils. The stylus for my iPad. Everything. Even the wheel. You try to sneak one of those collapsible travel pens into your shaving kit, maybe secretly thumb-type some thoughts as text messages to fake contacts in your iPhone ("D Sanderson," "Cap Champion," "No2 Self") just to get them down, but he's always on top of that. He knows all the tricks. He makes you feel a little bit bad about sneaking around and disobeying his orders, but you're just trying to express yourself, trying to have that outlet. You've gotten used to the daily routine, so it's tough to cut yourself off, even if it's for what they tell you is a good reason. So in the end you take the advice and listen. You take your very temporary spot on the mental bench.
But maybe it was for the best. The team had been on a five-game skid against Texas and Baltimore, but now they've bounced back and taken three in a row from the Twins. You always try to stay positive, because there's nothing ever to be gained from negativity, but the diary over the slide probably would have been pretty dark. There's a helplessness you're always fighting when you can't get on the field and help out. You'd scribble down alternate lineups that might have altered the outcomes, pitching changes that maybe contradicted what The Binder ordered Girardi to make, pep talks you didn't get to give because you're not sitting in the dugout and able to take a seat next to a guy who just popped out with the bases loaded to remind him that failure is an impossibility when you're wearing pinstripes, it's a failure-proof design, so next time he's hitting a grand slam.
As Captain, you don't do helplessness. You do leadership.
And soon you'll be back on the field and leading.
Thursday, July 4: at Minnesota Twins
Today's America's birthday.
And the Boss's.
That's not a coincidence.
There was always only one way to celebrate Mr. Steinbrenner's birthday, and that was to get him a win. And then another. And then you take the All-Star break, come back in the second half, and give him his real gift: a World Series.
He was pretty easy to shop for because he always wanted the same thing.
Maybe he didn't get it every year, but he got it a lot. And he let you know about it when he didn't get what he was expecting.
Happy birthday, Boss. We swept the Twins for you.
It's not the Series, but it's a start.
Friday, July 5: vs. Baltimore Orioles
Caller ID: A-Rod.
You definitely notice that he calls a lot, and you know that if you don't pick up, he's going to call again. Or text you. Or send a singing CentaurGram to the practice field, and it's wearing your jersey, and it's carrying a basket of fresh oranges, and it doesn't go away until you agree to start answering your phone again, and it only knows one song, and the song is "Mambo Number Five," but with your name as all the names. This is a lesson you've learned, so you pick up more often than not, because you can't have a singing centaur interrupting your ground balls, not when you're about to start a rehab assignment.
"Did you see my story in the paper, Jetes?"
"United States Today. Big story, Jetes. Really big."
"I thought I told you not to talk to the press."
"I know you did, but they came all the way to Charleston to talk to me. It seemed rude not to talk to them, Jetes."
"What did you talk about, Alex?"
"Just some stuff. Feelings stuff. I have a lot of feelings about things and they asked about them."
"Never talk about your feelings. We've discussed this so many times."
"It's just nice to be asked, Jetes. Some people don't ever ask."
"The therapist quit again, didn't she?"
"Maybe. It was amicable."
"Don't talk to the press, Alex. It never helps."
"Now the whole world knows I'm not ever quitting, Jetes. I'm the bleeping crazy guy who's never quitting when everyone wants me to bleeping quit. It's important people know that. That's information they need."
"I'm sure you gave them what they were looking for."
"I said the real words, not the bleeps."
"No bleeps, Jetes."
"Hey Jetes, good luck tomorrow. Should I send the horse-man to the game?"
"You got it, pal. Give 'em bleeping hell out there."
Tomorrow's my first rehab game. In Triple-A.
He better not send the horse-man.
But I'd take the oranges. The oranges are always really ripe.
Saturday, July 6: vs. Baltimore Orioles (and Lehigh Valley IronPigs)
It felt so good to be back at shortstop, in a real game, a game that actually meant something. Stepping back out onto the field just reminds you how lucky you are to play baseball for a living, even if you're surrounded by a bunch of kids a decade younger who probably won't get more than a cup of coffee in the big leagues. Maybe they'll only get half a cup of coffee, most guys don't get to finish the coffee, the odds of getting even one sip are tiny. It makes you appreciate how truly fortunate you are to have had so much coffee.
I got five innings at short. I would've gone all nine. I would've gotten in a car and driven to the Bronx and played nine there, with the big club, but they're being cautious with me. So for the immediate future it says RailRiders on my jersey instead of an interlocking NY.
I like the NY a lot better. It's going to look really good when I wear it again.
A week from now.
OK, five days.
It's important to compromise.
Sunday, July 7: vs. Baltimore Orioles (and Lehigh Valley IronPigs)
They announced the All-Star rosters today. Mo and Cano made it. No-brainers. You can't have an All-Star team without them. You also can't have an All-Star team without CC and Hiroki and Andy and Tex and Grandy and Alex, but they're going to try anyway. You just tip your hat to the manager and say, "Good luck with all those Tigers who haven't won anything. Now go get us home-field advantage."
I will not be starting at shortstop. It's important to me that I earn every All-Star game appearance, so I'm grateful that the fans didn't vote me in and force me to turn down the incredible honor. This is not my year.
Next year, though. I'll be ready if I get the call.
And you hate to get drawn into a heated discussion like this, but I don't think the Puig kid should make the game. He's been in the bigs, what, a month? Exciting player. Great story. But you have to put up more than a great month. You can't just go handing the honor out like that when there are so many worthy veteran players who have put up three great months. And the odds of him hitting .487 for the season are not high. You have to be a little pessimistic about those chances.
Before I forget: Got my first rehab hit tonight. One of the guys got the ball back for me as a gag. I signed it for him:
These usually come in a gift basket. — DJ2
You can't take yourself too seriously in this game.
And this way everyone knows he didn't actually get a gift basket. You don't want "Page Six" running with that.
Monday, July 8: vs. Kansas City Royals (and Rochester Red Wings)
0-for-2 tonight. But I feel good out there. Nothing's tight. Three straight days of games. DH'd yesterday, five more innings of short tonight. Made all the plays.
I don't think there's any doubt I'm ready to rejoin the team right now. But you can't call yourself up from the minors. You have to text the GM photos of your totally intact ankle, every hour on the hour, with the words "Let's do this."
Maybe he doesn't text back, but at least you know he knows it's time.
And it's time.
Tuesday, July 9: vs. Kansas City Royals (and Rochester Red Wings)
They gave me the night off. You hate to think it has to do with all the ankle-texts, but it's hard not to read a message into it when they bench you just as you're really starting to get your rhythm back. They want you to wait until after the All-Star break. To take it slow.
And maybe they're right.
There are five more games until the break. And they all count.
Let's do this.