Derek Jeter: Beyond the Numbers
My dad made me play sports at a really young age. He thought it was a way for me to stay active, get in shape, and stay out of trouble in school. I remember the first time I caught a football, smashed a tennis ball, hit a baseball, and clobbered a punching bag. Those memories stuck with me, they still do. Yeah – I fell in love with it. Sports has given me a lot in life. It has given me friendships that will endure, pure memories, lessons on how to deal with losing, discipline, and role models to look up to. Oh not to mention that it makes it a lot easier to run 10 miles if you need to on any given day!
I grew up idolizing so many athletes growing up in Toronto; from Mats Sundin, Vince Carter, to Mike Tyson, my list was diverse. One of those athletes who I looked up to was Derek Jeter. I was 10 years old when I went to my first professional baseball game and saw him play, it was his rookie year. He made an unbelievable diving play at shortstop, he got up and threw a bullet to first base. I was an instant fan. Throughout the next 18 years, I followed the career of someone who will go down as one of the greatest Yankees of all time. Now, for those of who look into statistics and analytics, I’m sure the superlatives and praise that he is receiving may seem a bit exaggerated. His numbers, while great, are not so spectacular. He never had a season with greater than 30 home runs, he was at times inconsistent, and his All-Star selection this year was a little questionable given the not so impressive numbers he put up. But what he gave, and what he represented, is intangible.
Let’s consider the fact that he played in the baseball mecca of the world for one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, but was never disrespected by the fans or the media given all the scrutiny that surrounded him. With the bright lights and the attention that was thrown at him in one of the most press hungry markets, being a good-looking and successful guy dating Hollywood actresses and models, one of the things I respect the most about him was that he always found a way to stay out of the tabloids. He was the never a point of negative attention outside of baseball. In today’s age, I can appreciate how hard that is. He always deflected attention away from himself and was all about the team first. Winning was a priority more than anything. More than that, he was humble.
Even with all the accolades, the one thing that I admire the most was how in his rookie year he started the Turn 2 foundation to help kids lead healthy lifestyles and stay away from drugs and alcohol. I guess it’s personal to me because growing up as a kid who didn’t know about, or didn’t have access to organizations and foundations like that, I led a life that I wish I hadn't. Now, I know kids who were in my position have access to foundations like Turn 2, so that they don’t have to go through what I went through. Words will never express how much I respect (or re2pect) that. It gives me an opportunity to volunteer and bring awareness to those causes because they are that much more important to me. Now I know a lot of athletes and celebrities have foundations, but the most interesting thing is that Jeter started it before he had the money. He was in his first year, a fresh faced 18 year old just trying to make it in the league. That, to me, is special.
We look at athletes sometimes and they seem so distant, not even like real people. In life, we draw inspiration from things that make us feel better about ourselves, or things that motivate us to be people that we want to be. I found my inspiration through role models, some like Jeter, who I’ve never met. But a lot of my confidence, and a lot of my swagger, came from sports. My best friend today shared with me a story about her friend’s son, a boy with OCD and paralyzing anxiety. She shared how the beauty of teammates, and coaches, and families encouraging him, was his therapy. As he tries to find his way through it all, that boy now helps other kids who have trouble. As someone who struggles and battles anxiety, I know how difficult the battle is. Playing sports, you may never make it professionally, you may never grow up to be as famous as Derek Jeter, but even at the smallest level, sports has a way of giving you the tools to teach, to learn, and to empower.
One quote from this week stands out, and encapsulates the spirit that he will leave behind for kids who will grow up on the diamond, the pitch, the ice, the gym, the classroom, or any other canvas through which they try to paint their dreams. When Jeter was asked in his press conference about kids in future generations who will look back in his legacy, and what he will want to remembered for, he said “I may have never been the most talented.. I may not be the most talented… I know that.. but I promise you no one has worked harder.”