Derek Jeter, a star for Bryce Harper to emulate


Derek Jeter scores during the Yankees’ two-run rally in the 14th inning Saturday, giving them a 5-3 win. New York has won the first two games of the three-game series at Nationals Park. (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)
Jason Reid
Columnist June 16, 2012

With so many sparkling choices, it’s hard to rank the accomplish­ments of Derek Jeter’s storybook career.

Many baseball historians would undoubtedly focus on the shortstop’s timely hitting in leading the New York Yankees to five (or more) World Series championships. The sabermetrics crowd has its choice of numbers to crunch and celebrate. Baseball reporters would likely point to Jeter’s stand-up-guy professionalism in answering their questions — win or lose.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

For me, though, all that stuff is down the list. Jeter’s greatest feat — by far — has actually occurred away from the ballpark: It’s the scandal-free life he has led as a megastar living in the world’s biggest fishbowl.

In the “gotcha” age of 24-hour sports television programming and the omnipresent social-media spotlight, the “Prince of New York City” has deftly sidestepped land mines many other athletes have repeatedly detonated. At 37, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer continues to thrive on the field while setting the standard for conduct off of it.

Washington Nationals rookie Bryce Harper should be watching attentively. Even just by observing Jeter from afar, Harper could learn things that will aid him in his under-the-microscope tenure in the District. It’s as clear as reliever Brad Lidge’s inability to do his job.

“Jeter has not only been a supreme player and talent his whole career, but he has done it flawlessly,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s the ultimate professional major leaguer. He’s the poster child for how to do it the right way.

“If Bryce is mentioned in the same breath as a Derek Jeter long term, as far as how he conducts himself, I would be extremely happy about that.”

The impressive balancing act that Jeter could (should?) write a book about has helped make him the face of Major League Baseball. He’s also still clearly the Yankees’ driving force.

Shaking off a rough-by-his-standards performance, Jeter delivered again in the Yankees’ 5-3, 14-inning victory Saturday over the Nationals.

Hitless in his first six at-bats, Jeter also misplayed Ryan Zimmerman’s grounder leading off the bottom of the 13th inning with the score tied at 3. The Nationals wasted the error (they’ve done little right in losing the first two games of the series), and Jeter, as usual,maintained his cool.

The Yankees’ captain singled in the next inning against Lidge to put runners on the corners for Mark Teixeira. In his second awful appearance in as many days, Lidge gave up a crowd-deflating, two-run double.

Although Teixeira provided the knockout punch, Jeter’s hit applied the pressure. “It’s what he always does,” said Jayson Nix, who scored in front of Jeter. “He always plays the game right. He’s always where he should be and does what he should do. It’s what I see every day.”

Everyone familiar with the game over the past 20 years has seen it, too.

When a guy is nicknamed “Captain Clutch,” he obviously has a reputation of excelling under pressure.

Jeter definitely has earned every bit of his fame through his hard work and dedication to his team. The fact that he has protected it so well is a feat on par with his momentum-changing moments in the postseason.

These days, it’s hard enough for celebrities to maintain their privacy even if they’re stay-at-home types. Jeter has been the Big Apple’s brightest star since he won the American League’s Rookie of the Year award at 22.

He dates super models and Hollywood starlets. He’s an A-list corporate pitchman. And he plays shortstop for the Yankees.

His life seems to be a fantasy most guys would want even for just a few minutes. The intense media glare on such a superstar lifestyle has revealed other athletes’ warts, but Jeter just keeps cruising along.

“I’m just someone who tries to be a private person,” Jeter said. “I came up in New York, which is a little bit different than every place else, and I’ve just always tried to stay focused on what I have to do for my team.

“It’s a different time right now than even from when I started. There’s a lot of stuff out there that you have to be careful about. . . . I don’t know how anyone else does it, but I’ve just always tried to think about” winning.

Harper possesses more off-the-charts talent than Jeter. At 19, Harper appears to be on a path to eventually have face-of-the-game status.

He went hitless in seven at-bats with five strikeouts Saturday. Still, fans had edge-of-their-seat excitement each time he was at the plate.

After the game, Harper declined to speak with reporters. It’s understandable that he was frustrated after a poor performance (left-hander Andy Pettitte tied him up in knots). He’s only a teenager starting out in the big leagues, so you can cut the kid a break on a no-show or two.

Harper, however, has a responsibility to represent the Nationals in a positive manner around the clock. He’s already the face of their team.

Harper has acquitted himself well in the District — that impromptu softball game was a great start. He doesn’t get to take days off, though. Just ask Jeter.

For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.

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