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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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"I don't think I've changed," Jeter says. "I think people around you change. The way they react when you're around. My closest friends I've had for a long time." His inner circle is small, populated by friends he met before he got to the big leagues, including teammates Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte; two longtime friends, Douglas Biro and Sean Twitty; and former teammate Gerald Williams, who Jeter says "always looked out for me" in his first major league training camp (1993) and who lives near him in Tampa.

"There are a few reasons why teammates look to Derek and respond to him," Posada says. "He doesn't make any excuses—about anything—and whenever he hears anything negative, he's going to prove you wrong. That fuels him to get better."

For the Gatorade commercial, Jeter was shot in super-slow-motion high definition by a camera moving along a track as he made his trademark jump throw, a leaping throw to first base deep from the shortstop hole. The shot was spectacular to the point of artistry, a kind of Baryshnikov meets The Matrix. "It's almost perfect," gushed the young, enthusiastic director, Adam Berg. Almost. The director tried more takes. Jeter finally presented Berg with a proposal.

"I told you I would do five jumps and three slides," Jeter said, referring to another scene in which he slid into second base. "But I'll make you a deal: I'll do 10 jumps and six slides, and all you have to do is swallow one spoonful of cinnamon. If not, five and three. Just one spoonful."

"With water?" Berg asked.

"Only after you swallow it."

Jeter's jump throw ranks with the basket catch of Willie Mays as one of the signature plays in baseball history. Still, Jeter's defense, especially his range, has been an object of derision by statistical analysts. "There is no possible way you can measure it," Jeter says of defensive skill, which he said includes too many variables that cannot be quantified. "There's just no way. It's impossible. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but ... no way."

After the 2007 season, at 33, Jeter hired a personal trainer, Jason Riley, to improve his leg strength and agility. As a young player Jeter didn't work out at all in November and December. "What I found out as you get older," he says, "is it's a lot easier to stay in shape than get back into shape." He worked with Riley throughout the winter, waking at 5:30 a.m. to finish by 7:30, even before spring training workouts. He worked with Riley again last winter. The results became obvious this year, when Jeter pleased even the statistical analysts with his improved range and footwork.

And he showed no evidence of decline at the plate. Only three shortstops have hit .300 in the season in which they were 36 or older, but Jeter appears to have the staying power to join them. Indeed, Jeter, with roughly the same number of hits (2,747) as Pete Rose had at 35, could join Rose and Ty Cobb as the only players to reach 4,000 hits if he plays through his early 40s, and perhaps he will even challenge Rose's record 4,256.

"I want to play as long as I'm having fun," Jeter says. "If I'm not having fun, I'm not going to be out there just to be out there. Right now I'm having as much fun as I've had since Little League. People say, 'How long do you want to play short?' I don't think about where I'll be playing six years down the road. I don't see any reason why I can't play it for a long time."

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