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2009 SPORTSMAN of the YEAR Derek Jeter
Tom Verducci
December 07, 2009
It is not so much what he accomplished at 35—a fifth World Series ring capping a historic season, to be sure—as how the Yankees' shortstop arrived at his iconic place. Being the ultimate team player and a role model synonymous with winning has brought him still another title:
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December 07, 2009

2009 Sportsman Of The Year Derek Jeter

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Eight years ago, to his recollection, Beane watched Jeter run out a routine ground ball to shortstop in the late innings of a routine game in which the Athletics were beating the Yankees. Jeter ran down the first base line in 4.1 seconds, a time only possible with an all-out effort. Beane was so impressed by the sprint that he ordered his staff to show the video of that play to all of the organization's players in spring training the following year.

"Here you have one of the best players in the game," Beane says, "who already had made his money and had his four championships by then, and he's down three runs in the seventh inning running like that. It was a way of showing our guys, 'You think you're running hard, until you see a champion and a Hall of Famer run.' It wasn't that our guys were dogging it, but this is different. If Derek Jeter can run all out all the time, everybody else better personally ask themselves why they can't."

Told the story, Jeter says, "It makes you feel good whenever anybody appreciates how you do things. My whole thing is, you're only playing for three hours a day. The least you can do is play hard. You have what, four or five at bats? O.K., it's not difficult to run, to give it a hundred percent. It's effort. You don't have to have talent for effort."

The idea of Jeter as a template stretches beyond 90 feet. He is a role model not only for how to play baseball but also for how to remain atop the wobbly pedestal of fame. DiMaggio never swam in the dangerous currents Jeter has known. Jeter has played through the Steroid era, through 15 seasons under the watch of the New York tabloids and through the rise of the Internet, bloggers and cellphone cameras and made it through, as far as notoriety goes, untainted in that way as well. When Jeter broke Gehrig's franchise hits record, against the Orioles on Sept. 11, former All-Star righthander Curt Schilling wrote in his blog, "Derek Jeter has always been above the fray. As someone who's wallowed in it, 'foot-in-mouthed' it hundreds of times, said dumb things and backed up dumber ones, it's refreshing. He's shown up, played and turned in a first-ballot Hall of Fame career in the hardest environment in sports to do any/all of the above.... I know competing against that guy, for the decade or so we matched up, was what made the major leagues the major leagues for someone like me."

How has he done it? Jeter was thrown into the Gotham maw at the age of 21, less than four years removed from his graduation from Kalamazoo Central High, but even then he understood the navigational charts of fame, the big city and success. Former teammate David Cone says that for months during that 1996 season, Yankees veterans would look for any of the typical openings to jump on a rookie—the way he dressed, the quotes he gave reporters, "anything," Cone says—but found nothing. They finally gave up. By the second half of Jeter's rookie season his teammates stopped looking for a reason to humble him and started looking to him to lead them.

It was during that season that Jeter told his father in a hotel room in Detroit while sharing a pizza, "Dad, I want to start a foundation to help kids."

"There are a lot of ways you can give back," replied Charles, a substance-abuse counselor who has a Ph.D. in sociology. "If you want to start a foundation, you've got to put in a lot of work. You can give back without a foundation."

"No, this is what I want to do," Derek said, "and I want you to help."

That year Jeter established the Turn 2 Foundation to create and support programs in western Michigan, New York City and Tampa, where he lives in the off-season, to help young people live a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. "I thought maybe we could raise fifty-, a hundred-thousand dollars," Jeter says. The foundation raised $300,000 in its first year. Since then it has awarded more than $10 million in grants, including $500,000 recently to launch the Derek Jeter Academy in Tampa, an outpatient counseling center for teens seeking individual or family substance-abuse treatment. The foundation is run principally by Charles, Dorothy, Sharlee and Derek.

If you imagined a man's life as an ever-growing ball of string, with his experiences and attributes represented by thousands of strands gathered along the way, virtually any string you pull in the life of Derek Jeter leads you back to his parents, the white daughter of a New Jersey church handyman and the black son of a single mother in Alabama. It is because of the lessons of Dorothy and Charles that Derek is the rare star athlete known as much for who he is as for what he has done.

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