on saturday, derek jeter picked up his 3,000th hit. (also his 3,001st, 3,002nd and 3,003rd, actually). now this may not mean much to you, if you are not a follower of baseball, or of sports at all. and even if you are, you might be one of those who hates the "damn yankees" and thinks that derek jeter is conceited, spoiled, entitled, privileged and overrated. or you may just be a casual fan who doesn't care all that much but grew quickly tired of all the media coverage this milestone yielded. i don't blame you. but i do think it was appropriate for baseball fans to stand up for derek jeter and tip their hats to him this weekend.
i've already written on this blog about my opinion of derek jeter as a baseball player. i made it pretty clear in that post that he is a model teammate and opponent, and that any youngster who wants to learn about sportsmanship, losing gracefully, and playing selflessly would be well-served to study derek jeter as a baseball player. i don't know how he has done it: playing in the powder keg that is new york yankee baseball, with most of his career being played under the stranglehold of george steinbrenner, and all of it under the microscope of the new york media. he says the right things and does the right things, and even stays out off the TMZ reports, for the most part.
look at my beloved pittsburgh steelers for example. last year ben roethlisberger got in trouble for allegedly giving alcohol to a minor in a georgia bar and then doing God-knows-what with or to her in the bathroom of the bar. would derek jeter have been in this situation? never. not in a million years. i'm not saying derek jeter is a better or more moral person than roethlisberger, just that jeter has this incredible ability to make better decisions, it seems. on saturday, the day jeter got his 3,000th hit (a home run, as an exclamation point!) i heard the news that hines ward (my favorite football player ever) had been arrested for drunk driving. terrible, terrible decision making on his part. with all the spotlight and all the pressure on him since he was 19, we've just never seen derek do this. maybe its because his parents are at just about every home game. or maybe its because he cares about succeeding so much that he doesn't want to do anything - anything - that would be a distraction to his team.
today i woke up to the news that james harrison, the fierce and mean linebacker for the steelers said some really awful and harsh things about commissioner goodell in a magazine that came out today. he may be punished, and other steelers are going to have to answer questions about this whole situation if and when the season ever starts. when they should be worrying about learning blitz schemes and how to cover wide receivers, they'll instead be worrying about losing their outside linebacker, and how to defend him to the commish and to the press. not only that, but he apparently said some questionable things about his starting qb, too, which can't help team chemistry. unfortunately, this type of thing is more and more common in sports these days, and while it understand that being mean is his shtick, and that it helps him with his preparation and intensity, it doesn't serve the team overall as well as being a professional and keeping your mouth shut.
like derek jeter. he just talks about doing whatever he can for the team, never giving them anything juicy to sell papers. he just quietly puts on his uniform, day after day, and does everything in his power to help his team win. including not saying stuff about his teammates in the newspaper. including not driving home drunk at 3 in the morning. including not getting arrested.
he's not a hero, i'm sure. i don't know what he does with his private time, but i can imagine that an entitled, rich athlete who's always had everything handed to him on a gold plate is probably full of all kinds of ugly excess. but if you are looking for someone to applaud who plays the game with integrity and commitment, while treating others (teammates or not) with grace, then look no further than derek jeter, who has been doing it for a long time.
congrats, derek jeter. it's' too bad so many people hate you just because you're a yankee, because i think little league dads, soccer moms, and professional athletes all over this country could really learn so much from you about what it means to play the game. thanks for setting a good example.