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Another of Jeter's endearing traits is his nonjudgmental nature, as evidenced by his choice of mentors—including Raines, who battled a cocaine addiction early in his career, and Strawberry. At spring training in '97, following Jeter's rookie year, Strawberry sat the kid down, warned him that expectations would be higher this time around and cautioned him not to feel pressured to carry the team. "Darryl Strawberry has been like a big brother to me," Jeter says. "If anyone can relate to what I'm going through, being the big man around here, it's him."
"I told him early on to avoid the pitfalls that plagued me," Strawberry says. "New York is a place that can swallow you up if you're not able to handle the pressure of success—and of failure. He handles it with class and dignity."
So what's a person and player as good as Jeter worth on the open market? An arbitrator awarded him a '99 salary of $5 million, which will seem like tip money if he files for free agency following the 2001 season. "With the way he's playing and improving," says Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden, "there's no reason he won't be able to get $15 million to $20 million a year."
In all likelihood the Yankees will fork over enough cash before then to secure Jeter's long-term commitment. He won't be a tough sell. He grew up worshiping the team, and he still occasionally gets choked up when he walks from the Yankees' clubhouse to the field and sees a sign above the tunnel inscribed with a quote from Joe DiMaggio: "I WANT TO THANK THE GOOD LORD FOR MAKING ME A YANKEE."
What Jeter loves about New York is more than just the baseball, though. It's the pizza that folds over and the go-for-broke driving and the time he saw Spike Lee shooting a commercial at Yankee Stadium before a game and said to the sports-loving director, "When are you going to let me be in one of your movies?"
"Can you act?" Lee asked. Jeter nodded.
"Well, act like a shortstop tonight."
Jeter chuckles at the recollection as he crawls toward downtown in a stretch limousine that's taking him to a photo shoot. In some ways he is like this vehicle: sleek and attention-grabbing. Everyone wants to get a good look inside, but only a privileged few are allowed that opportunity.
The limo comes to a halt across the street from City Hall. Rudy Giuliani may be the mayor, but Jeter could own this town, if only he'd get out more. You remind him of the homebody comment, and finally he lets down his guard. "Look, I'm like every other 24-year-old," he says. "This city is a melting pot, and the women here are the most beautiful in the world. Every night here is a Friday night—the places you go are going to be packed. During the season it's difficult to get into a pattern of going out, because the places are great, you lose track of time, and all of a sudden it's 5 or 6 a.m. Baseball's a game in which it's real easy to tell if you've been out late the previous night, so I have to pick my spots. But during the off-season, when I'm here, it's a totally different story."
Jeter lowers the window of the limo, and passersby take to him as if to a long-lost cousin. A college student takes a term paper from her book bag and hands it to Jeter. "Can you sign it, please?" she says. "I don't care if it's due today." Minutes later a city bus passes the limo and screeches to a stop in the middle of the street, in rush-hour traffic. Risking life and limb, the bus driver jumps out, rushes to the limo and hands Jeter a transit slip to sign.