The Derek Jeter interview: How he became No. 2



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Derek Jeter’s No. 2 will be retired by the on Sunday. But first, he sat down with Baseball Tonight’s Karl Ravech to discuss being drafted by his favorite team, adjusting to being a professional athlete and the lessons he wants to pass on to his child.

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Watch the full interview on WatchESPN.

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Jeter: I was, you know, as far back as I can remember, I was a Yankee fan. My mom’s got thirteen brothers and sisters, and every summer I’d spend at my grandparents’ house in New Jersey. My grandmother was a huge Yankee fan. So, I would sit up at night with her and watch the games. And that’s where the love affair came about with the Yankees. And I guess the first thing I can remember is playing on a little league team, and we were the Tigers.

Game Mike Montgomery Jersey Ravech: The Tigers?

Kids Mike Montgomery Jersey Jeter: And I couldn’t have been more disappointed. And I can’t tell you anything else about that season, but I was playing for the Tigers.

Ravech: Was there a Yankees team in that league?

Jeter: No, there wasn’t, which eased the mind a little bit.

Derek Jeter said his biggest fear is being unprepared. Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesRavech: What do you remember about watching the Yankees then? Who were the big guys? What did you like about it?

Jeter: Obviously, the pinstripes stood out first and foremost. I think when you’re young, it’s a visual love affair. And it was [Dave] Winfield. Big Dave was my guy, you know. I thought he was larger than life. But, you know, those were the years — Donny [Don Mattingly], you know, Willie Randolph. We used to watch all the highlights. So, I tried to learn as much as I could about the past Yankee teams, and I just couldn’t think of a better organization to play for.

Ravech: When you say Winfield, was it his physical size? I mean, you’re a little guy. He’s a giant. But was it the way he played, the way he carried himself?

Jeter: Well, back up, I’m a little guy, you said?

Ravech: I mean, when you were watching him.

Jeter: I think so, you know, it’s — and the more I learned about him, you know, you see he’s drafted in all three sports. He was just the ultimate athlete and, you know, to this day, he’s just the only athlete to be drafted in all three. So, yeah, I think his size stood out first and foremost. And he was big. He was big on the Yankees.

Ravech: He was. When you said you always loved the Yankees and you watched Winfield, was that when you think the seed was planted or did you, at that age — what are you at that age?

Jeter: I mean, I was 4 or 5.

Ravech: So, you’re not thinking, I’m going to be a baseball player, are you?

Jeter: As long as I can remember, that’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do.

Ravech: Really?

Jeter: So, you know, someone asked me an interesting question one time when I was playing, they said, what’s your first memory? And they say that your first memories usually come about when you’re 4 to 5 years old. Mine was when my younger sister was born. It’s the first thing I can remember. But as far back as I can remember, in terms of baseball, is I wanted to be a Yankee.

Ravech: Did you ever have any roadblocks at that age where you said, oh my gosh, that guy is better than I am. This isn’t going to happen. Was there ever any of those things?

Derek Jeter NightThe Yankees will retire Derek Jeter’s number Sunday. Here’s more information on the team’s tribute to No. 2.

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Jeter: Well, you know, sports is a little bit different nowadays than it was. You know, I never wanted to be that guy that said, “Well, you know, back when I played it was different,” but back when I played, you know, when you’re young, I played almost 12 games a year until I was in high school. I mean, you play all different sports. More importantly, you played it outside. So, you know, [when I say] outside, I mean, unorganized. I was just out there with friends. But, yeah, you have your dreams and your aspirations and your goals and, you know, you hear people laugh at you and tell you to put real things, real thoughts in your head. And no one from Kalamazoo, Michigan, is going to be able to play for the New York Yankees Jersey, but I used that as motivation.

Ravech: Who encouraged you at that point to continue, or was it just you in your bedroom at night, eyes open looking up at the ceiling saying, “Yup, I’m going to do this?”

Jeter: My parents. You know, my parents were very supportive. You know, they’re big on, you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it, and you work harder than everyone else. So, that’s a good feeling when you come home and you have the people that are closest to you telling you that you can accomplish this goal. But they wouldn’t allow me to ever make excuses. And, you know, I couldn’t use, you know, coming from Kalamazoo, a small town, I couldn’t use that as an excuse. You know, you’re playing people in Kalamazoo in the small little league, and they tell you, “Well, there’s people better in Florida and California, yet they continue to work.” But when you have that reinforcement at home, I think it goes a long way.

Derek Jeter said his name was in the program once as No. 17, but he quickly asked for it to be fixed. Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesRavech: Your dad is a substance-abuse counselor. Your mom is an accountant. Did their careers in any way, do you think, assist in, “Hey, we’re raising a great son, but a baseball player? We don’t have that necessarily as our dreams, and yet this is our son’s dream.” How did those things that they had in their paths help you?

Jeter: In their mind, you know, I don’t want to speak for them, but they never looked at it as they were raising a baseball player. I think they were trying to raise good people, me and my sister, as well. And, you know, they always told me, you can do anything you want to do. We’re going to be supportive as long as you work at it. And if we see that you’re not working at it, we’re going to tell you you need to pick another career path. But I worked hard at it, and they were there for me.

Ravech: The contract that everybody seems to know about between you and your parents, did you actually sign it?

Jeter: The first contract I’ve ever signed was with my parents, and they used to, before every school year, they’d map out, you know, what our grades had to be in order to play sports, our after-school programs, respect. They taught us accountability, responsibility and curfews. And, you know, I never really tried to argue with the contract, with the exception of the curfews I tried to change. But, I think, you know, it taught us to stay grounded. It taught us, you know, you need to set goals and work hard at them and, you know, at the time you don’t really understand it, but looking back on it, you realize that it really built the framework for success.

Ravech: Did you ever violate the contract other than maybe a curfew thing here and there?

Jeter: I was so, you know, I was so afraid of disappointing my parents, and to this day, it’s something that’s in the back of my mind. It sounds strange saying it because I’m 42 years old, but you know, every time I do something I try to think, what would my parents, how would they react to it? So, I guess I was ruled by fear when I was younger.

Ravech: You’re always a son. That doesn’t change.

Jeter: Exactly.

Ravech: Are there lessons beyond the accountability that you will recite when you become a dad — and I don’t want to get to that part yet — but are there things that they planted in there that you made sure you used as you’re growing up and as you become a parent?

Jeter: Yeah, I mean, I’m sure I’ll try to do as many things as I can remember that they did, you know, when we were growing up, but, you know, I don’t know, man. I’ve always prided myself on being prepared, you know. If I’m playing a game, I want to make sure I know in this particular situation what I’m going to do. And you’re talking about being a parent. I have — there’s no preparation. I think you just sort of fall into it. So, I hope I do a good job.

Ravech: I can share some advice if you want.

Jeter: I appreciate that. Worst-case scenario, I’ll just drop him off at my parent’s house.

Ravech: Let them deal with it, because they did such a good job the first time. That’s part of the Derek Jeter thing, is preparation. And yet, you go through these ages and stages and somehow you get to play for the team that you dreamed about when you were young. How does that happen?

Jeter: A lot of good fortune, I mean, to say the least. You know, you get to the draft, it’s a crap shoot. You know, I never even thought I would have the opportunity, like, for the Yankees. I thought I was going for another team. But everything aligns. The stars aligned, I guess, but a lot of luck. I think you have to work hard, obviously. You have to. But more importantly, you need to be in the right place at the right time, and everything seemed to work out. And then, on top of that, you know, back in the day, the Yankees were known for trading their prospects. And, you know, Bernie Williams was the first one that came up and did a great job, and he sort of set the tone for the rest of us. And we got our opportunity.

Ravech: Well, some of the great stories from baseball players that I’ve talked to is that draft day and where you were and who you were with and how it happened. So, how did that day unfold, and the call? How did you find out?

Jeter: Well, once again, I’ll go with this back, in the day, you know, there was no call waiting. There was no — and this was not televised. You’d sit around and wait for a phone call. And, you know, I told all the family and friends — I told them don’t call me because I’m going to keep the phone lines open. And, you know, I was supposed to be drafted first or fifth is what they had projected, and I got a phone call from a local newspaper and they said, have you heard anything, because the first five picks have been announced, and my heart just dropped. I hung up the phone, went to the bathroom, and the phone rang, and my mom answered it. And then, she was sort of in shock. I could see it in her face. And she said, “The Yankees are on the phone.”

“I hung up the phone, went to the bathroom, and the phone rang, and my mom answered it. And then, she was sort of in shock. I could see it in her face. And she said, ‘The Yankees are on the phone.'”

Derek Jeter on finding out the Yankees drafted himRavech: You were in the bathroom?

Jeter: I was in the bathroom, yes. I’m not going to tell you what I was doing, but …

Ravech: I was just going to say, were you crying? Were you emotional because the first five?

Jeter: I needed a moment to myself because I thought, I didn’t know what was going on.

Ravech: That must have been a little unsettling.

Jeter: Very unsettling. It’s one of those things that obviously you have no control over it. But yeah, I didn’t know what was going on, and I was — went from disappointment to the ultimate feeling of …

Ravech: Do you remember the look on her face? You came out of the bathroom …

Jeter: And she said, the Yankees are on the phone. And to be quite honest with you, I didn’t even know the Yankees picked sixth because everyone said first or fifth. And, you know, it’s one of those feelings you’ll never forget.

Ravech: Do you have chills now, like, literally thinking about that phone call?

Jeter: I do. I do, because that’s the beginning of it all, you know. I could have been drafted by any other team, and you like to think in your mind you’d have a successful career, but, you know, I just couldn’t imagine playing for another organization.

Ravech: There’s a great deal of structure and preparation and confidence you have. At that stage, you’re beginning this baseball career as a professional. Did you always believe that you would end up at the major league level?

Jeter: No. I always, in the back of my mind, I did. When I first signed, you know, I was drafted when I was 17. I had signed the day after my 18th birthday and never really been away from home with the exception of family trips to my grandparent’s house and had never really struggled when it comes to playing baseball. And now you’re playing against the best players in the world, you know, not just in the United States. And I went to rookie ball and I struggled. And it was, it was rough. And, you know, everyone has a roommate. I didn’t have a roommate at the beginning because I signed late. I’m by myself struggling for the first time, calling home, crying, saying I should have gone to school. Can I give the money back and start all over? But my parents were there. And it’s really sad to say it, because I was there for two weeks, my parents came down. Two weeks later, they came down again, and two weeks after that, the season was over. So, I really wasn’t gone for a long time, but it’s, you know, dealing with struggle and dealing with failure, it’s all the first time. … I mean, you have a lot of confidence and you’ve always had success, and now you’re struggling. So, it was difficult to deal with.

Ravech: How about the moment when you realized, all right, my parents have helped me, but actually, I just did it on the field? Was there a moment when you were like, yup, this is the right choice?

Jeter: You know what, the following year in 1993, I went to major league spring training. The only reason I got an invitation is because it was in my contract when I signed, and I got a chance to go for two weeks. And I saw the players there and, obviously, you know, they were better and more consistent, but they weren’t hitting the ball 300 feet further and throwing 100 miles an hour faster. They weren’t running faster or throwing harder. So, when I saw that I said to myself, “You know, I can do this. You know, it’s just a matter of being more consistent.” So, I think that sort of triggered something in my mind.

Derek Jeter said he was always a Yankees fan because of his grandmother. Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesRavech: Early on, the biggest influence to help sort of get you to the next step, and then the next step — who was the person or people baseballwise, not your folks?

Jeter: Baseballwise, man, there was Gary Denbo, my first manager, and now he runs the Yankee minor league system, and he was sort of with me along the whole journey. He was my first manager in rookie ball. He was the coach in A-ball, Double-A and Triple-A, and I worked with him every offseason, pretty much every offseason my entire career. And, you know, he’s someone that’s been around from day one.

Ravech: You remember the first game wearing pinstripes?

Jeter: The first game I went to, I didn’t play, because I sort of got there late, and I went there and just watched. And the first game I played was a doubleheader. I was 0-for-8, I think, with seven strikeouts. I had a few errors. And I felt like crying between games. If I could have gone into a bathroom, and this is rookie ball, there’s no real privacy there. You’re out in the open. If I could have, I would have — I would have broke down.

Ravech: You seem to have opened a little door. Do you use the bathroom to cry?

Jeter: It seems to be the common theme here, right?

Ravech: I know Buck Showalter really well, and the story sort of goes, when he was asked what number you should have, 55, 61, he said, “Nope, he should have No. 2 because he’s going to be great.”

Jeter: Well, I appreciate it if that’s what happened. You know, I was just always under the impression it was the smallest uniform. You know, Mike Gallego had it before me and, you know, when I came up, I was pretty thin and small. So, I just thought they gave me the smallest uniform.

Ravech: Two is a small uniform. Ten is a big uniform. Winfield was what, 31?

Jeter: Winfield is 31, yeah. So, I thought as the numbers get a little higher, the uniform size increases.

Ravech: At what point do you think you understood the significance of a single digit, given Yankee Stadium and the monuments and the plaques?

Jeter: You know, I was well-versed on the Yankee history, but I never thought about it when I got the No. 2. My dad won on the 13 in college, and, you know, I always tried to get 13 as much as I could. Jim Leyritz had it when I came up, and the following spring training they actually changed my number to 17, because they thought I just didn’t want No. 2. And I went back and I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You know, I do want No. 2.” So, I think if you go back to the program in 1997 spring training. I was listed at No. 17.

Ravech: Really?

Jeter: Yeah.

Ravech: So, you had 2. They put 17.

Jeter: I got 2 back.

Ravech: Did you look at [it] and be like, “No, no, no?”

Jeter: Well, I told them before I got there. I saw it somewhere that I was 17, and I said, “No, no, no, I’m going to stick with No. 2.”

Ravech: Any pushback on that from them?

Jeter: No, no pushback at all. Nick Priore was our old clubhouse tenant, so I had no problems with it.

Ravech: That’s amazing. You were No. 17 for a while.

Jeter: Never wore it. Never wore No. 17, but it was listed in the program, yeah.

Ravech: Now we’re on the journey. Can you piece together what you think were the most important ingredients for you and the Yankees’ success now that we’re on the team? We’re wearing 2. We’re playing every day.

Jeter: For me it was a great support group. You know, I came into a great situation, and we had a lot of veteran players. We had a few young guys that came up. We had a perfect mix and, you know, they all took me under their wings. You know, they never made me feel as though I was a rookie.

Ravech: Who is they? Who made you most comfortable?

Jeter: Oh, I mean, there was everyone. Tino Martinez, Gerald Williams, you know, we got Cecil Fielder, Tim Raines, Luis Sojo. I mean, we have so many people that are part of our team, and they always made me feel comfortable from day one and felt as though I was a part of it. And they didn’t make me feel as though I had to prove something. They just looked at me as I was another one of the guys.

Ravech: What can you tell us that they showed you, taught you about the city, about being a major league player that perhaps people at home wouldn’t think that a player would teach another player?

Jeter: Different things. I learned different things from different guys. You know, Tim Raines taught me — Tim Raines and Cecil Fielder — Fielder taught me to have fun every single day. You look at those guys. They had a smile on their face. You see them today and they’re the same personalities. I learned from watching Don Mattingly — how you go about your business in the right fashion. You know, I work, I learned I think the intensity …

Ravech: Buying clothes? Where to eat? Did you have to learn that?

Jeter: No, I just sort of, I had to wing that. So, I was in the middle of New York City just, you know, walking — not too many players lived in the city at the time. A lot of them have families and live outside the city. I wanted to experience the whole thing. So, I just sort of jumped into it.

Ravech: When did you start feeling like we actually have beyond a good team with great guys, a chance to win, to be special, championships?

Jeter: Well, look, every team with a new spring training, you know, you go visit all of them. They say, “Oh, we have a great team. We have a chance to win.” You never really know how the team is going to shape up ’til maybe around the All-Star break. But we kept rolling. I mean, we just sort of jelled as a group. We added some great players at the trade deadline and, you know, it was a fun time here. Yankees hadn’t won in a long time. You know, you had the support of the — well, the Yankee fans are the best in the world, anyway. They watch every game and support the team year after year, regardless of how they’re doing.

Ravech: Did you always think that the Yankees fans were the best in the world. Were there days where you were like, “I can’t? Back off.”

Jeter: They’re tough. They’re tough. But I think, you know, it eliminates complacency. You know, I think that’s important. You know, you don’t ever want to think you have it made. You know, when I was playing in New York, every day I took the field, I thought I was playing to keep my job. You know, it was a different time.

Ravech: You felt that way?

Jeter: No question. I mean, the boss would get rid of you.

Ravech: Right.

Jeter: You know, he would get rid of you and get some big-name free agents. So, we all felt as though we were playing for our jobs.

Ravech: You brought up the boss, and a lot of people who watch the Yankees now, many of them know him. There are some kids who have no idea that Hal and Hank’s dad ran this team and that you had a really unique relationship with him from Saturday night life to contracts to other things. How do you summarize your relationship with George Steinbrenner?

Jeter: We had a great relationship. I think it started with the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry. Yeah, he was the big Ohio State guy, big Michigan. We used to bet on the football game every year. But, you know, the thing with the boss is, in my opinion, he’s the greatest owner in the history of sports. I’m a little biased, but, you know, what he was able to do with this organization and how he has been able to make it grow, and we had the same mindset when it comes to winning. You know, if you do not win a championship, then the season is a failure. And, you know, I’ve always felt that way, and, you know, if he had a lot of respect, he commanded respect. But if you don’t make excuses, you play the game the right way, you play it hard, and he would have respect for you. And, therefore, we had a great relationship.

Ravech: There are so many — the flip play, 2000 against the Mets. Is there a Derek Jeter in your mind, sort of a seminal moment for you that would define your career? And maybe it’s one we don’t even talk about.

Jeter: You know, I don’t know. There’s been so many great memories I’ve had along the way, and I’ve been a part of a lot of special moments, and we’ve won five times. One of the moments — I don’t know if it’s fair to say — but it’s precious in my mind, was the last game I played at Yankee Stadium, which ironically is the only game in my career where we were mathematically eliminated. So, it’s the only meaningless game I ever played in Yankee Stadium.

Ravech: How hard is that to believe?

Jeter: Yeah, and the way the fans reacted and responded and, you know, it was like a playoff atmosphere. And I think it just shows the special bond that I was able to have here with the city of New York and the baseball fans.

Ravech: Last two. What does it mean to have the number retired with the Ruths and the Gehrigs?

Jeter: It’s surreal to think about. I don’t know. I’m trying not to think about it. I just want to get there and sort of soak it all in and see how I feel. I don’t want to go in there with any preconceived notions of what may happen. I just want to enjoy it. But, you know, you have a dream to play professional baseball. You have a dream to play shortstop, and the dream to play shortstop for the Yankees. To have your number retired is — was never a part of that dream.

Ravech: Now, you’re a content provider now with the Players’ Tribune and those things, so you understand good content. People that watch TV think good content is to learn more about you. So, in the last question, we’ll do a little rapid-fire word associate. And then, you answer and we’ll be done.

Jeter: I don’t have to answer, though.

Ravech: You don’t have to. Celebrity?

Jeter: Celebrity? Karl Ravech. [laughs] That will probably be edited out, huh?

Ravech: How about fame? Karl Ravech? Same thing? How about fame?

Jeter: Yeah, same thing.

Ravech: Privacy?

Jeter: Extremely important.

Ravech: Success?

Jeter: Winning.

Ravech: Teammate?

Jeter: A lot of great ones.

Ravech: The flip play?

Jeter: Doing my job.

Ravech: Red Sox?

Jeter: Rivalry.

Ravech: Mom?

Jeter: The best.

Ravech: Family?

Jeter: Extremely important.

Ravech: Steinbrenner?

Jeter: The boss.

Ravech: 9/11?

Jeter: Tragic events, you know, I have to give you more than just one word. It was a tragic, tragic event, obviously. That goes without saying. But for us to be in New York and sort of represent the city of New York at that time, it’s probably one of the proudest moments of my career, is how, you know, the people of New York and the family members that we … had an opportunity to meet with lost loved ones, telling us that we were giving them an opportunity to entertain for a few hours and put smiles on their faces is one of the things that I will never forget for my career.

Ravech: Trust?

Jeter: It’s the most important thing I think you can have amongst teammates.

Ravech: Media?

Jeter: Fair. Fair, you know, you may not always like what someone writes about you, and unless you’re in that position and you’re having those feelings, but, you know, looking back, they always treated me fairly.

Ravech: Michael Jordan?

Jeter: He’s like a brother.

Ravech: Art?

Jeter: Art? I have no artistic skills, man.

Ravech: You have paintings.

Jeter: Yeah, no, I missed that. I’m not very good at art.

Ravech: Childhood?

Jeter: Close family.

Ravech: Preparation?

Jeter: One thing that — my biggest fear is being unprepared. So, it’s the one thing that I focus the most on.

Ravech: Clutch?

Jeter: Stems from being prepared.

Ravech: New York City?

Jeter: Second home.

Ravech: Aging?

Jeter: Happens to everyone.

Ravech: Cooperstown?

Jeter: Every player has a dream of being there one day.

Ravech: Rings?

Jeter: Five.

Ravech: Pinstripes?

Jeter: Best uniform in all sports.

Ravech: The number 2?

Jeter: Man, it defines me. I have people that call me two, you know, so it seems like it’s just, sort of goes side by side with me.

Ravech: It’s who you are.

Jeter: Definitely.

Ravech: Are you going to be a good dad?

Jeter: I’d like to think so.

Ravech: Father? And it’s the last one.

Jeter: I said my biggest fear is being unprepared. I don’t know how prepared I am for this, so it’s going to be interesting.

Ravech: Your sister said, “You know what, Derek is going to think that you just tell the baby, poop in the diaper, clean up the diaper, eat at these hours.”

Jeter: I understand it’s going to take a little while to teach that, but I hope that it happens.

Ravech: You’ll be great.

Jeter: Thank-you.

Ravech: No problem. Thanks for coming down.

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