The Black Athlete: Who is Derek Jeter?

The Black Athlete: Who is Derek Jeter?

Omar-Tyree

 

By Omar Tyree
NNPA Columnist

As Major League Baseball rolls through the post-season toward crowning another World Series Champion, its biggest national news story was the retirement of 20-year veteran, Derek Jeter, the shortstop for the New York Yankees.

For non-baseball fans, Derek Sanderson Jeter is a 40-year-old baseball prodigy from Pequannock, N.J., the product of a mixed marriage. His father, Sanderson Charles Jeter, played the same position at Fisk University, a historically Black university in Nashville.

Sanderson met his Irish, German and English wife, Dorothy, while both serving in the U.S. Army in Germany. Dorothy later became an accountant while Sanderson earned a Ph.D and worked as a substance abuse counselor. With a younger daughter, Sharlee, the Jeters moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., where they raised their children as fine student athletes and model citizens, even having them sign annual contracts of acceptable and unacceptable behavior in order to play sports.

Derek and Sharlee went on become baseball and softball stars, respectively, at Kalamazoo Central High School. They both set high school records and won multiple athletic and academic awards; Derek was a Gatorade and a USA Today High School Player of the Year.

Inspired by his favorite player – Dave Winfield –  and his favorite ream – the New York Yankees – Jeter turned down a full scholarship offer from the University of Michigan while chasing his boyhood dreams of playing Major League Baseball. He was then selected as the sixth overall pick by the Yankees in the 1992 MLB draft.

Jeter earned his stripes enduring four challenging seasons in the minor leagues, before he was finally called up to the majors in 1995. Sent back to the minors for more seasoning, Jeter failed to lock in his starting shortstop position – with his now famous #2 Yankees jersey –  until the legendary Joe Torre took over as manager in 1996.

The rest is baseball history, as they say. Jeter and the Yankees improved each year and competed for World Series titles, while the superstar shortstop made strides as the team’s most consistent hitter and competitor. Jeter also earned himself a yearly salary that increased from  $540,000 a year to $5 million, to $10 million and eventually to $19 million.

Moving on up in American popularity with his on-the-field performances and his off-the-field marketability, Jeter took over the number one media and baseball market in the world – New York City – for 20 years.

In his retirement, his career stats look like something dreamed up in a video game: 14 All-Star appearances, five World Series Championships, five Golden Glove Awards, five Silver Slugger Awards, two Hank Aaron Awards, a World Series MVP, an American League Rookie of the Year Award and a Roberto Clemente Award.

The New York Yankees team captain became the face of the franchise and all of baseball, with a career batting average of .310, with 3,465 hits, 260 home runs and 1,311 runs batted in.

Trained to handle the many trappings of stardom earlier on from his parents, Jeter has been the quintessential professional. That means no domestic violence assaults, no DUIs, no marijuana charges, no league suspensions for using banned substances or performance enhancing drugs; nothing.

A kid who kept his nose out of the politics of race, Jeter has been able to settle into American pop culture like a slice of apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side and a glass of lemonade to wash it all down.

In fact, the only thing I’ve ever heard this man do in his personal life is date popular and beautiful, ethnic-raced women; Mariah Carey, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Adriana Lima, Jordana Brewster, among others.

But with no kids or marriage, I guess we can’t Jeter a family man –  or at least not yet. In fact, I don’t know what to call him outside of a baseball playboy. Jeter seems to have done everything in his baseball career and dating life and nothing else.

I don’t even know what he sounds like, to be honest. I know I’ve heard him speak before in interviews, but nothing Derek Jeter has ever said has registered as memorable. He’s like a mirage of awards and numbers. Even his charitable causes seem vanilla. What are they?

What does Derek Jeter even think about? And what will he do now that his baseball career is over with?

Oh yeah, I’ve read that he’s started a new sports web site, The Players Tribune, with Super Bowl champion quarterback Russell Wilson named as his first senior editor. Wilson, another quintessential pro, kicked off the web site by writing a revealing article, explaining that he, Mr. Nice Guy, used to be a bully in grade school.

Really? I wonder whose idea it was to write that? I guess even Russell Wilson understands that us normal humans need something of substance and mortality that we can relate to, just to make sure our sports heroes are not walking on water and multiplying fish.

But now it’s Derek Jeter’s turn to reveal something. Who are you, dude? We’re still waiting to find that out.

Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction and a professional journalist @www.OmarTyree.com.

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