Jeter stays stoic in face of impending farewell tour
Shortstop says 'I have feelings,' but continues to keep them close to the vest
TAMPA, Fla. -- We don't really know Derek Jeter.
We know his feats and his impressive lack of public foibles. We know all about the World Series rings, the stats that will make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the moments that will make up whatever highlight reel serves as the standard.
We know that nobody who has played with or against him has even a harmlessly unflattering word to say about him. We know he's got a huge waterfront home down here with an annual real estate tax bill likely larger than your total mortgage, and, yes, we know he's dated or otherwise befriended some gorgeous girls over the course of two decades on the big league stage. Even in an era of unfathomable finances and TMZ and 24/7, well, everything, he's been one guy you can feel pretty good about your kids adoring and emulating. That's legacy enough.
But we don't really know the man, and that certainly wasn't going to change Wednesday morning, in a big room full of reporters and cameras and teammates and 27 minutes' worth of questions and something resembling answers.
"I still have a season to play," Jeter told us, reminding us this was no ordinary retirement press conference.
Even that phrase -- "press conference" -- was not to be embraced. "Media availability" was the preferred terminology, because that's something Jeter is annually accustomed to on the position-player report date, and no Facebook retirement announcement was going to change that.
And so they poked and prodded him with queries about any emotions that might be bubbling beneath the surface here on the eve of his final season in pinstripes. But nobody honestly or realistically expected the curtain to suddenly be pulled back and the inner "Bachelor" contestant -- the tears, the fears, the sneers -- to be revealed.
"I have feelings," Jeter said, believably. "I'm not emotionally stunted. There's feelings there. I just think I've been pretty good at trying to hide my emotions over the years."
An understatement if ever there was one, and that's probably what makes Jeter's particular exit strategy so surprising.
"I was shocked he was doing it on Facebook," teammate Ichiro Suzuki said through an interpreter.
Well, sure, that's part of the intrigue. Who knew Jeter had a Facebook page, for one? It's not like he's going to use the medium to show us vacation photos or share his "feeling" status, with accompanying emoticons.
But what's most shocking of all, perhaps, is that Jeter is willingly subjecting himself to the Mariano Rivera-like farewell tour and all the attention, glad-handing, marketing ("Captain's Final Voyage" seems to be the working title), and, yes, the gifts it's sure to contain.
All Jeter has ever wanted is a career free of undue distractions from his annual goal of winning a World Series, and that's why he was so adamant at controlling the tone and tenor of this -- ahem -- media availability. The reason he used Facebook as his parting platform, he said, was to have his message heeded in full and his charitable foundation highlighted, two worthy goals.
But there will be so many elements of this endeavor that are sure to be out of Jeter's scope of comfort, because, as you might have noticed, we tend to like to overdo things here in the land of the free and the home of the Super Bowl.
"I can't comment yet [on what the farewell tour will be like]," said Jeter, "because I don't know what that means. I don't know what's going to happen. I really don't know."
We should thank him, then, for the opportunity to say thank you and providing the heads-up that 2014 would be an awfully good time to come to the yard and see No. 2, if you haven't already.
For the Yankees, though, it's a situation that is not without its potential pitfalls. The prevailing pleasantry about Jeter's adieu has been that he's "going out on his terms," but that's a little on the presumptive side. His physical condition will dictate the terms, and that condition is a constant concern for the rare animal that is the 40-year-old shortstop. There will be days when Joe Girardi rests him for the betterment of the bottom line, and some kid in the stands who has never seen Jeter in action will be robbed of that pleasure. Backup shortstop Brendan Ryan has said he's already preparing to "embrace the boos" that will come with his job.
"[Jeter] has always made my job difficult when you want to give him a day off," Girardi said. "I remember him always yelling at Mr. [Joe] Torre when he wanted to take him out of games and [asking] how was he ever going to break Cal's [Ripken] record if Torre kept pulling him out of games. We want him in the lineup as much as possible. But we also have to make sure he's productive."
It says here that Jeter has been blessed with too charmed a life to run out of good mojo now. Maybe his career won't end with another World Series trophy in hand, because there are far too many variables at play. But all any of us can reasonably hope is that the final ride is free of physical potholes. He's earned at least that and probably much more.
Jeter has also, whether he wants to embrace it or not, earned all the applause and adulation and alms and awards sure to come his way over the next seven-plus months. At some point, there will be a farewell speech, there will be a final tip of the cap, there might even be a few tears from the otherwise stoic shortstop.
For now, though, all we know is that Jeter will soon venture into a life after baseball centered on his foundation's work and his hope of starting a family (no, we don't know with whom). And we know, most importantly, that he still has one more season in him, which is why, on a dais reserved for him and him alone, and on a day assumed to serve as celebration of all that was and all he is, Jeter paused mid-availability, pointed to his teammates assembled on one side of the room and said this:
"If these guys got to go to work, go work."
We don't really know Jeter. But we do know that's what's most important to him.