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Derek, what's it like when you go clubbing downtown?
Blank stare. "I don't really go out," he says. "I'm a big movie fan. That's basically what I do every night, even in the off-season. Dinner and a movie. I'm a homebody."
Jeter has a two-bedroom apartment in a relatively modest high-rise, and this is what you see in the living room: a couch, a TV, a laptop computer propped up on an empty box. In the kitchen there are two basic nutritional options: Wheaties and Apple Jacks. It sure doesn't look like a crib in which someone spends a lot of time hanging.
Thumb through a stack of clips on Jeter, and his concern for his privacy makes more sense. Drawing mostly from the New York Post's Page Six and the Daily News's gossip section, you read that Jeter's romance with Carey began in the fall of '96, while she was still married to record executive Tommy Mottola; that early in the '98 season Steinbrenner warned Jeter to cool things with Carey because the Yankees' owner felt that the relationship was hurting his player's game; that one night during last year's pennant race Jeter showed up at Moomba with a posse of athletes and then went on to the China Club and partied into the wee hours. Then, while attending rap artist-producer Sean (Puffy) Combs's birthday party at a Wall Street restaurant last November, the papers say, Jeter continually rebuffed Carey's flirtatious advances. (In April the New York Observer revealed that the verb "to jeter" had entered the city's lexicon as a "synonym for 'to diss' or 'to blow off,' as in: He jetered her big time.")
Who knows how much of this is true, but Jeter clearly resents gossip and says that an awful lot of what's been written about him is false. "One time I was in Puerto Rico, and my mom heard on the radio that I was out doing this or that with some person at a ridiculous hour, at some place I'd never been before," he says shrugging.
On the other hand, he's smart enough to understand that he invited the attention by carrying on with Carey, with whom he says he is still friendly. (She declined to be interviewed for this article.) "It's hard for me to have a relationship the way things are right now," he says. "I'd have to be with someone very understanding, someone who's willing to deal with all the attention. But going out with Mariah, that's taking it to a whole other level. She's someone who's known worldwide. I don't see how two very famous people—and I'm nowhere close to her level—would be able to deal with that over the long haul. It's too much."
Jeter says he has been in love once—with his high school girlfriend, from whom he drifted apart. He insists that he doesn't date much, that his schedule lends itself more to going out in groups and that he worries about finding a woman who loves him for who he is rather than what he is. He has a built-in safeguard against getting suckered. Two, actually. "I think I'm a pretty good judge of character," he says, "but even if you fool me, you've got to get by my mom and my sister. It takes a lot to pass that test."
Derek's mother, Dorothy, an accountant, laughs when that statement is relayed to her. "He does a lot of screening before we even get involved," she says. "There are just certain things you can tell about a person—sometimes it might even be her name, or her hair."
Derek's 19-year-old sister, Sharlee, a student at Atlanta's Spelman College, has a long history of looking out for her big brother. "There's this incident I still get teased about," she says. "At one of his high school baseball games I confronted this girl he was dating. I was in the sixth or seventh grade, and I said to her, 'I don't want you here, and Derek doesn't want you here.' I think I was just jealous that she was taking my brother away from me, but even now I'm really protective.
"I ended up loving Mariah Carey to death, but I would've taken her on, too, if she hadn't measured up. People said, 'Oooh, it's Mariah Carey, that's perfect.' I was like, I don't know who she is. I know how she is on TV, but that doesn't tell me anything. So, yeah, she still had to go through the Test, and yeah, she passed. I think she was forewarned."