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:
Every sunrise is a fresh shot at victory for Derek Jeter. Every day is an invitation to compete with the same smile and delight of that boy in the mirror who looked back at him on the eve of Little League opening day in Kalamazoo, Mich. Young Derek would gaze upon himself for the first time in his new jersey—a T-shirt actually, with a sponsor's silk-screened name, such as D.M. BROWN CO.—then race to show his mom, Dorothy, and his dad, Charles. There would be a parade the next day, each kid in his new shirt marching a few blocks to the Little League field. A quarter century later Dr. Charles Jeter can close his eyes and still see his boy walking in Kalamazoo, "smiling ... his chest is out ... looks like his mom."
There is something even better now, though. Charles can open his eyes wide and see that same boy playing shortstop for the New York Yankees. "I still see that same joy," Charles says.
The need to win for Derek Sanderson Jeter knows neither rest nor discretion. Whether he is pulling a prank or a base hit, he pursues victory with the Shakespearean conviction that "things won are done; joy's soul lies in the doing."
This was a very good year for the soul of the Yankees' shortstop, whose pursuit of victory crested anew at 11 minutes to midnight on Nov. 4, when he became a World Series champion for the fifth time. After the Yankees closed out the Phillies in six games, the players, executives, trainers, batboys, friends, girlfriends, family members and hangers-on filled almost all 3,344 square feet of the team's celebratory clubhouse. Charles and Dorothy Jeter, however, were nowhere to be found. They have been in the Yankees' clubhouse only once, back in 1995, when Jeter first reached the big leagues, and even then they had to be coaxed in by one of his teammates and stayed only briefly.
"They think, This is where you work. They don't want to get in the way," Jeter explains, "but you still want to share it with them."
So Jeter stepped outside the clubhouse into a service concourse, where Dorothy and Charles stood. Each hugged their son and told him how proud they were of him. "Thank you," he told them.
It had been nine years since New York won the world championship. Jeter was just 26 years old then, the young prince of the city. Now he is 35, coming off perhaps the most impressive of his 15 big league seasons, bearing the patina of a man in full. Last summer, as their son chased the franchise record for hits, held by Lou Gehrig, Dorothy and Charles told Derek to take time to savor what was unfolding. "I'm always moving on to what's next," Derek says, "so they make it a point to tell me to appreciate things as you experience them."
"I think I was speaking to him when I told him that, but I was also speaking to myself," Charles says. "I've been very proud of him, on and off the field. He's a grown man now. The way he's grown up ... this year has had me reflecting."
Two days after winning the Series the Yankees were honored with a parade through the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan. Most of the Yankees were flanked by wives, girlfriends, children or celebrities. Jeter rode along Broadway on a float with his mom, dad and sister, Sharlee. "I pretty much said, 'You're coming on the float, right?'" says Jeter, who was also joined by his girlfriend, actress Minka Kelly. "And they said, 'Yeah, we'd like to.' I always like sharing things with my family. They're the reason why I'm here. They're as much a part of it as I am."