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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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Dorothy, an accountant, and Charles met in Germany, where both were serving in the Army. Upon returning to the U.S., the couple settled in New Jersey, where Derek and Sharlee were born, before moving to Kalamazoo when Charles enrolled at Western Michigan University to pursue his master's degree. Dorothy and Charles required Derek and Sharlee to sign a commitment every August regarding rules of behavior, such as avoiding alcohol and drugs and respecting others.

"He was brought up to respect his environment and respect himself," Dorothy says. "When you like who you are, you're going to respect others. It's very simple."

"You've got to have strong values because there are people who don't want to see you attain or achieve," Charles says. "I don't think you magically get those values when you're successful. If you don't have it by then, you're going to be in a lot of trouble."

"I would be the same person regardless of what I was doing or where I was playing," says Jeter, who still talks to his parents each day. "It's not like I'm trying to act a certain way to make people happy. I'm just who I am. But again, it's something that I learned at a young age."

The first time Jeter found himself one win away from his fifth world championship was on Nov. 3, 2001, in Game 6 of the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The night went horribly wrong for the Yankees, to the point that manager Joe Torre, with his team losing 15--0, pulled Jeter, catcher Jorge Posada and first baseman Tino Martinez from the game in the fifth inning as an act of surrender. Jeter walked into the clubhouse to change out of his spikes and into a pair of more comfortable turf shoes. In the training room he saw Jay Witasick, a journeyman reliever for the Yankees who in 1 1/3 innings had given up nine runs, eight of them earned, a Series record for a reliever. As Jeter walked by, he heard Witasick say, "Well, at least I had fun."

"Derek just jumped all over him," Posada says. "Derek couldn't believe what he was saying. He was really, really hot. That was the angriest I've ever seen him."

Last week, sitting in an airport hangar in Long Beach, Calif., surrounded by a small army of people to shoot a commercial for Gillette, Jeter nodded when he was asked about the episode with Witasick. "I remember," Jeter said. Slowly, he began to get agitated again. "Fun? I can't relate to it. I really can't relate to it. I'll never forget that. At least you had fun? I'll never understand it. I don't want to understand it."

Anger is an emotion Jeter rarely displays. "Oh, yeah," he continued. "Everybody gets angry. What makes me angry is when people don't care—not when they fail; everybody fails—or when people act like they don't care. You have one opportunity to do something, and you never know if you're going to get that opportunity again."

After that night's loss to Arizona, and a 3--2 defeat in Game 7 one night later, it took Jeter and the Yankees eight more years to get it right, to win the last game of the baseball season, which is the only way Jeter defines a successful season. "I forgot how good it felt," he says. "We've been in the playoffs every year except 2008, and every year you think you have a chance. Then when you lose, it's so hard. I think it should be hard on everyone. I don't know if everyone feels the same way I do, but you put in all that time and work and effort to win a championship, and then you lose? You don't ever forget that feeling."

Every alltime great ballplayer establishes a brand, a shorthand identifier that captures what makes him iconic. For Ruth, for instance, it was the home run. Mays was a thrilling body in motion, Aaron represented strength of character, Mantle a comic-book heroism, Koufax the curveball, Ryan the fastball, Rose all-out hustle and Reggie the month of October. Jeter is unique this way. He has forged an identity as the ultimate team player in a team sport.

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