He pulled up in the golf cart wearing sunglasses, white athletic shoes, designer jeans and a designer T-shirt. In this outfit, Derek Jeter knows he is better than you and me.
Two steps in front of me, he pulls the door to the visiting clubhouse at Rangers’ Ballpark, and a man this cool usually walks in with no regard to anyone not in his circle of coolness. Yet he pauses to hold the door open for me, lowly media scum.
This is a nothing gesture The Captain extended to me on Monday afternoon but an appreciated common courtesy humans are supposed to show other humans. Therein lies of the beauty of Derek Jeter — he fully realizes just how cool he is but that he is a human being, too.
If anyone knows just how inhuman a Major League Baseball star can be, it’s Rangers’ clubhouse manager Kelly Terrell. He has been in this job for 28 years and seen all of them. He has seen men like Jeter when they are at their absolute worst. He is only too happy when a few of them never come back.
Terrell is not excited at the thought of never seeing Derek Jeter ever again.
“He is one guy I will sorely miss and not just because he’s a good tipper,” Terrell said. “He is always polite. He knows your name. He is just a professional.”
Jeter always grasped what other people in his position often fail to — just don’t be a jerk. Jeter is in town with the Yankees for what is scheduled to be his last series at the Ballpark against the Rangers. He is scheduled to be formally honored on Wednesday night, the finale of the series.
On this, his retirement farewell season, compliments have rained from New York to Nike about The Captain. Where one stands on Jeter’s accomplishments and exactly where he deserves to rank among the game’s best shortstops can be debated until the end of the universe. There is no right answer, just more debating.
Hate Jeter because he is a Yankee, but know this: he is a decent guy, and such behavior deserves recognition as much as any stat, postseason hit or All-Star honor.
From the time Jeter broke into the bigs in 1995, for whatever reason, he treated people decently, and it had a trickle-down effect.
“It takes so little effort to make a big impact,” Terrell said. “He always understood that. He was a guy you wanted to do things for because he was so low-key, so low-maintenance.”
In his career, Jeter made a habit of being available while saying nothing. It was not uncommon to hear that he was too much of an android businessman who offered no opinions. But you never questioned his sincerity.
“I have a tough time criticizing,” Jeter told the media pack before Monday night’s game.
A lot of men in his position not only say nothing and do only what is in their own best interests. And when that personality is your team’s best or highest-paid player, it affects everyone else on the team and can create a clubhouse full of jerks.
“As a general rule, that is close to the case,” Yankees right-handed starter Brendan McCarthy told me. “I have heard examples of teams throughout the years that have that going on; a guy is a pain, and it trickles down. Younger guys see that and emulate that.”
By simply taking the time to be a human being, the rest of the players in the Yankees clubhouse followed their leader — their captain.
In his era, the Yankees were all business, but they seldom got into any trouble and they never mailed it in. They were pros, and they were the best in the league.
Even if you hate the Yankees, it was nearly impossible to feel that way about Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Jeter. You hated their team, their logo, maybe even their city, but just not those guys.
Barry Bonds is someone you can really despise. There are nuns who reportedly loathe A-Rod. And Roger Clemens is someone you’d pay big money to see in a dunk tank.
But Jeter? He simply inspired more envy than any degree of sports hate. He was the one great-looking guy at the bar you wanted to punch but just couldn’t because he treated you cool … right before he left the club with the best-looking fake blonde in the place.
Jeter said Monday he has no plans, or interest, in becoming a commentator after his career ends. You get the sense he has no idea what he will do when this season is over. He is not unlike so many who retire from any job — it’s not real until they don’t have to go back to work.
“It’s humbling; I still feel as though I’m young,” Jeter said. “[All of this attention] is appreciated. It’s something I never really expected.”
Also something few of us never really expected: we are sad to see a New York Yankee go — not because he wasn’t great or didn’t kick our butts but because he was a great player who didn’t act like a jerk.