"I told him that he has to learn the language," says Landestoy, a native of the Dominican Republic. "I told him that all the sportswriters are going to want to talk to him all the time. But he's afraid. He doesn't want to say the wrong thing."
In a 20-minute interview in mid-April, Ordonez sat on a stool in front of his locker and looked down at the floor. He didn't say the wrong thing or much of anything. "You have to remember where he's coming from," says Phillips. "There was not a lot of trust involved with the Cuban national team."
Jeter is the all-American boy, born in New Jersey and raised in Kalamazoo. As a kid he would return to Jersey in the summers to visit relatives and root for the Yankees. He wore Yankees caps and T-shirts and idolized Dave Winfield. He was a basketball and baseball star in high school and spent one semester at Michigan. He says all the credit for his success belongs to his parents, Dorothy, an accountant, and Charles, a drug-and-alcohol-abuse counselor with a Ph.D. Dorothy is white, Charles is black, and Derek announces proudly, "No one knows what I am, so I can relate to everyone. I've got all kinds of friends: black, white and Spanish."
He is a one-man melting pot, fittingly taking a lead role in New York. As he left Yankee Stadium after a game recently, he stopped on his way to the parking lot and signed autographs for a crowd of kids. Jeter is prepared for the onslaught of autograph gnats and collectibles pests who swarm to highly touted rookies, but he is determined not to let them ruin his days. He recently took an apartment in Manhattan, a rare move for any New York athlete, let alone someone so young. He plans to live alone, even though it makes his mother nervous. In his first season in the city he intends to see more than just his living room and his locker.
Jeter says he has received advice and support from many of his teammates, including one Yankees veteran who knows all too well what it's like to be young and beloved in New York. Dwight Good-en, who broke in with the Mets in 1984 at the age of 19, was twice suspended from baseball for violating his drug aftercare program. Now Gooden is hoping to salvage his career with the Yankees and help Jeter avoid some of the mistakes he made. "The first thing I told him is that this is the place to be," says Gooden. "There's nothing wrong with New York. Just be yourself, try to have fun, and this can be a great place to play. I tell Derek that the important thing is to be in front of your locker after every game, good or bad, win or lose. You've got to take the questions head-on. I really think he's ready. He's got the mental toughness. He's a very special breed."
Ordonez is also a special breed. On July 12, 1993, while competing in the World University Games in Buffalo, Ordonez made the most memorable move of his baseball career, leaping over a fence and ducking into a red Cadillac. A Cuban radio executive from Miami drove Ordonez to the airport, and they flew first class to Miami, drinking champagne along the way. Three months later the Mets won his rights in a special lottery for Cuban defectors.
Ordonez left his father, two sisters and five brothers in Cuba. He also left his wife, Lisa Maria, and son, Rey Jr., who is now 3½ years old. Since coming to the U.S., Ordonez has remarried, and he and his wife, Gloryanne, have a nine-month-old daughter named Sonia.
Ordonez occasionally talks to his father and brothers on the telephone. He says his father, also named Rey, was a better shortstop than he is (he makes about $6 per month working in construction). When asked why he is reluctant to talk about life in Cuba, Ordonez once said, "The Cuban government reads everything." What does he enjoy the most about life in America? "I just like to go anywhere I want and do what I want," he says.
Has he been disappointed by anything in the first few weeks of his big league career? "I just want to know where all the fans are," he says, noting the low turnout for the Mets' first two home stands. "I thought there would be more people in the stands."
In New York, shortstops come and go faster than classic-rock stations and Thai restaurants. After watching Ordonez and Jeter on Opening Day, the fans and the media were quick to recall the days when the Yankees had Phil Rizzuto and the Brooklyn Dodgers had Pee Wee Reese, and New Yorkers lined up behind one shortstop or the other, as if they were following them into battle. That was in the 1940s and '50s. Sometimes it seems New York has been holding shortstop tryouts ever since.