Saturday, June 30, 2007

Jeter Sees It's Time That He Speaks Up

Derek Jeter, who singled in two runs Thursday, said he believed a championship was possible. “If you don’t feel that way,” he said, “that’s when you’re in trouble.”

The New York Times
Published: June 30, 2007

Derek Jeter of the Yankees adheres strictly to the baseball code that anything that is said or seen in the clubhouse should stay in the clubhouse. Jeter stresses that he sees no merit in discussing what the Yankees say or do after reporters leave the clubhouse and the doors close.

As the Yankees have struggled for the first three months of the season, Jeter has heard theories about how they can emerge from their slumber. The players should have a meeting. The players should critique or motivate one another. The players should do something. Maybe, Jeter said, the Yankees already have done it.

“They think they know who is saying this and who is saying that,” Jeter said of the team’s critics. “They think somebody should say this or say that. In reality, people have no idea what’s going on.”

Jeter acknowledged, grudgingly, that there was something going on. There are daily discussions happening on a team that has underachieved, and Jeter initiates many of them. While Jeter, the team’s captain, did not specify whom he had spoken to or what the topics had been, he said that he spoke “to people constantly” to cajole or counsel.

Jeter has never been on a club that has been this dreadful this late in the season. Now in his 12th full season, Jeter has been in the playoffs for 11 consecutive years and has helped the Yankees win four World Series titles. But this is a different team and a different time.

When Jeter was asked if the Yankees’ malaise had caused him to be more vocal than at any time since becoming captain in 2003, he said, “Ah, umm, yeah, probably, I would think.”

It took Jeter a few seconds and a few stammers to reveal that sliver of insight. Jeter has noticed that the losing has affected some players, so, in his subtle way, he has been chattier.

“You got people that are going through things they’ve never been faced with before,” Jeter said. “So, yeah, it’s probably safe to say that I’ve done more of that.”

Mariano Rivera, the Yankees’ closer, and Jorge Posada, the catcher and Jeter’s closest friend on the team, said Jeter has indeed had more discussions with teammates.

Rivera said those conversations, even if they lasted a minute, could prod or support a player and perhaps help the Yankees emerge from their funk. Before last night’s 2-1 victory against Oakland, they had lost seven of their last eight games and were 36-39.

“As the captain, you want people to know they can sit down and talk to you,” Rivera said. “We need that.”

Posada, who has joined Jeter and Alex Rodriguez as the only Yankees who have performed exceptionally all season, said Jeter’s job as captain had been tougher because the Yankees had been so inept.

“He’s got to be more vocal,” Posada said. “When things aren’t going right, he’s the guy we follow.”

Actions, not words, are what the Yankees need most these days. Jeter provided some of the former Thursday night in Baltimore. With the Yankees and the Orioles tied, 6-6, in the eighth inning and the rain falling hard at Camden Yards, Jeter slapped a two-run single against Chris Ray.

Once Jeter scooted to second on the throw home, he clapped his hands and kicked his right leg up like a Rockette. Jeter said he was animated because he was happy, but he was relieved, too, even if the Yankees have not yet snatched a victory. The game was suspended because of the rain and will be resumed on July 27.

“We didn’t give up,” Jeter said.

The Yankees have not given up, although, because of their disappearing offense and ragged play, it has looked that way. Johnny Damon has wondered aloud what Boston’s clinching number was in the American League East, a sobering question for the Yankees to be pondering before July. Jeter did not speculate about that number. He says the Yankees have played consistently for only about two weeks this season, but that he still believes in them.

“If you don’t feel that way,” Jeter said, “that’s when you’re in trouble.”

Then Jeter veered into a detailed description of how the Yankees should prepare, which might hint at what he tells teammates.

“The thing that you have to try to remember when you come here every day is that you have to feel as though you can win,” Jeter said. “I feel we have the team. That’s what makes it frustrating. If it’s not frustrating, you’re pretty much saying you don’t have the capability. I think we have the capability.”

When Jeter was asked if the Yankees could win a championship, he quickly said yes. Jeter added that he was confident that would happen, optimistic words he desperately hopes are mirrored by actions.

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