Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sportsman of the Year: Derek Jeter

Sports Illustrated chose Derek Jeter as their Sportsman of the Year.

I approve of the choice. Jeter has always struck me as a humble guy and an extremely hard player (a trait highlighted by a Billy Beane anecdote in the SI story about Jeter running balls-out on a meaningless ground ball late in a meaningless game).

He also had an excellent year statistically: he hit .334 for the year and .407 in the World Series, and he was second in the AL in hits (212) and fourth in runs (107). Jeter is a leader, and since leadership (along with teamwork) is one of the things that sports teaches the average person, I like that he gets props. And the loyalty to his team -- in the era of free agency I like the guys who stay with the same team for their entire career even more. Wow, I'm sounding more fawning even than Tom Verducci, who wrote the SI story and really glorifies Jeter.

This year was Jeter's fifth World Series title. He's 35, which makes him my contemporary -- it gets a bit depressing now that most of the famous athlete-contemporaries of mine have retired (or are in the grizzled veteran phase of their career).

I remember watching a 60 Minutes story about Jeter once that focused on his close relationships with his parents. The SI story also emphasizes Jeter's priority on family:
After the Yankees closed out the Phillies in six games, the players, executives, trainers, batboys, friends, girlfriends, family members and hangers-on filled almost all 3,344 square feet of the team's celebratory clubhouse. Charles and Dorothy Jeter, however, were nowhere to be found. They have been in the Yankees' clubhouse only once, back in 1995, when Jeter first reached the big leagues, and even then they had to be coaxed in by one of his teammates and stayed only briefly.

"They think, This is where you work. They don't want to get in the way," Jeter explains, "but you still want to share it with them."

So Jeter stepped outside the clubhouse into a service concourse, where Dorothy and Charles stood. Each hugged their son and told him how proud they were of him. "Thank you," he told them.

This guy is a good guy, and amidst all the Tiger Woods hoopla it was fun to read Verducci's story, even if it was a wee bit over the top on the glorification.

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