The Big Man in the Big Apple

It’s almost a cliché to say there are two kinds of baseball fans.  There are those that love the Yankees and those that hate the Yankees.  Few fans, it seems, fall between those two extremes.  The player who has been the face of the Yankees for nearly two decades now has been their Captain and shortstop Derek JeterIan O’Connor’s new book “The Captain:  The Journey of Derek Jeter” provides a great read no matter what your feelings about Jeter or the Yankees might be going in.

O’Connor, currently a writer for ESPNNewYork.com, has covered Jeter for most of the player’s career and so has an insight built over time.  Drawing on that experience combined with over 200 interviews we learn about Jeter’s life as a young boy in Kalamazoo, MI all the way through the four-year contract signed in 2010 that will almost certainly take him to the end of his playing career.  What I found in the book was an engaging portrait of an athlete born not only with great natural physical talents but also a person who would work as hard as it took to maximize those talents in order to become what he always told everyone growing up he would one day become, the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees.

For the purposes of full disclosure I have to admit that I’m no fan of the Yankees.  I’ve always hated the fact that they seem to print money in New York and could and did buy playoff appearances.  But, even so, I know that Jeter is a special player and a sure Hall-of-Famer.  But, like non-Yankee fans I was a little tired of being told he was a great shortstop.  I knew he was a great hitter but I was also pretty sure he wasn’t a great fielder.  I admire Jeter.  I didn’t necessarily adore him the way true believers seem to.  But, having read this book I came away with an increased appreciation of why so many kids and adults say without hesitation that Jeter is their favorite player.  He does have something special that sets him apart and draws others to him the way few other players can.

That he is a great player is inarguable.  We can really only argue how great he has been.  But, within this apparently storybook career there have been controversies.  His relationship with Alex Rodriguez and the fact that other players have felt Jeter to have been overrated have been topics of debate in the press and in fan circles.  His struggles in the minors and the problems Jeter had in adjusting to pro ball are in here too.  Interestingly, differing evaluations of Jeter’s abilities have been going on since the early days.  O’Connor honestly tries to access the best of Jeter and at the same time doesn’t shy away from discussing in detail these things as well.

If you’re a baseball fan I recommend this read.  It does help to understand a little bit better why so many kids seem to want to have the number “2” on their jersey.