Confessions: (1) I am a Red Sox fan. (2) I’ve been having trouble getting my hate up for Derek Jeter at the very moment the Yankee Captain hype machine has gone into gasket-busting overdrive.
I am the sort of fan who treats our national pastime as a long-running melodrama: Players get to be rich and famous for playing a children’s game in their pajamas, and, in return, we get to build them into outsize characters based on the mediated, incomplete, and often misleading scraps of their personalities made available to us on TV and the back page of the Post. Does A-Rod seem to be preening when he puckers his lips in the batter’s box? Well then, he is a preening, insecure clown. Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m aware that I don’t really have a clue what A-Rod is like when no one is looking, but it’s just more fun this way.
In this cockeyed moral universe, Jeter has always been the apple-polishing prom king for Red Sox fans — the guy who gets more face time sitting in the dugout than most players get during their at bats, who is celebrated as if he were the only player ever to dive for a ball, who imperiously signals the umpire for time before every pitch, who leans over the plate or away from it when he takes a pitch to make sure everyone knows where he thought it missed, who turns routine plays into cheap ballet with needless jump throws and fist pumps, who never deviates from the league-approved, team-and-winning-above-all script for player interviews, who wears pastel sweaters and a slick grin in Ford commercials, and who is ever-so-discreetly sleeping his way through the Maxim Hot 100 list. In short, he is the guy who prompted me to buy the (admittedly juvenile) “Jeter Drinks Wine Coolers” T-shirt. So why don’t I feel like wearing it anymore?
Well, two championships will do a lot to soothe a decade’s worth of hard feelings. But it’s more than that. Jeter’s current age-defying season has pretty much laid to rest the already tottering notion that he’s overrated. It’s hard to be overrated when you pile up season after season after season of nearly 300 total bases and an almost .400 on-base percentage. And it’s hard to blame a guy when people get excited that he has more hits in a Yankee uniform than Lou Gehrig. If I’m going to hold it against him for making a show of being on the top step of the dugout when a teammate gets a big hit, then I have to admit he seemed genuinely humbled and moved by the outpouring of congratulations at Yankee Stadium when he passed Gehrig.
That damn smile has worn me down. Jeter wins. His consistent excellence and good-natured demeanor have outlasted my animosity. I guess he really is a born winner and a good teammate and a class act. And that jump throw is pretty. From now on, I will only get out the wine-coolers T-shirt when both my 2004 and 2007 World Series shirts are dirty.