With retirement looming, Derek Jeter still is control of his emotions
David LennonDavid Lennon
David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since
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Anyone hoping to see tears Wednesday from Derek Jeter hasn't been paying attention the past two decades. You might get some in October, when the curtain closes on this farewell season. But the Yankees' captain isn't going out like that yet. Not in February.
As Jeter told us, he was there at the podium, under the Steinbrenner Field tent, to take questions, give some answers, and then resume playing shortstop for the Yankees. He didn't have a speech prepared. When a reporter asked about his post-baseball ambitions, Jeter replied, "Did you read my letter?"
Of course. Most of the planet is familiar with Jeter's Facebook posting. While that statement delivered the nuts and bolts of his stunning decision to call it quits after this season, what we learned Wednesday was something different.
Sure, Jeter is retiring. But he's not finished.
"I expect to come out here and I expect to do my job," Jeter said. "I expect to compete and help my team win. If my expectation level changed, then I would have gone home a long time ago."
Textbook Jeter. You want emotion? Feelings? Rent "The Notebook." Once Jeter shows up for spring training, that switch goes off. Baseball still is fun for Jeter -- as long as his surgically repaired ankle holds up -- but it's also a business, and he has to approach it that way to play at an elite level.
That's not a good or bad thing. It's just how Jeter is wired. Midway through Wednesday's news conference, Jeter shouted out to Joe Girardi, who was seated in a section full of Yankees' players.
"Hold on," Jeter yelled over. "If these guys got to go work, don't feel as though you're forced to be here."
Everyone laughed. No one moved. Obviously the only one who felt trapped was Jeter -- the guy stuck going over the kind of personal material he's been able to avoid during his life in pinstripes. It's served him well. Tough to argue with five World Series rings and a spot waiting for him in Cooperstown.
"There's a lot of players where it's hard to enjoy the game while you're going through it," Girardi said. "I know it was for me. Because it was a physical grind and it's a mental grind. If your focus is right -- about championships -- it's hard for some people to do it."
With Jeter, it's not as much of a chore as he pretends. Occasionally he has fun with all the poking and prodding by the media, and there was a classic moment during Wednesday's festivities when he was asked about not showing any emotion up there. Jeter is comfortable on stage, but he doesn't have to follow your script. He's used to calling the shots.
"You trying to get me to cry?" Jeter said, smiling. "If that's the thing, just spit it out. Yeah, I have feelings. I'm not emotionally stunted."
We'll have to take Jeter's word on that. Or wait for the Barbara Walters special. For everyone who showed up or tuned in to hear Jeter express those feelings, they walked away disappointed.
As for his health, the condition of his ankle, and whether that had anything to do with his decision to retire, we'll have to draw our own conclusions from watching him on the field. He says no. We're not convinced.
"You can't do this forever," Jeter said. "There's other things I want to do."
One of those things is having a family, and that's as personal as Jeter would get. It was a glimpse of what's been going on inside The Captain lately, but that's the last we'll hear of it for a while. Once Jeter stepped away from the podium, he wasn't taking that part of himself to the clubhouse, where it will be business as usual.
"Sounds like a guy that's ready to play," CC Sabathia said. "Sarcastic Jeter's back, so it was good."
If the Yankees are lucky, he'll be staying until late October.