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THREE GRAND
Tom Verducci
June 20, 2011
Sometime in the next week Derek Jeter could become the third-youngest player, and the first Yankee, to reach 3,000 hits. The road to that milestone was a simple one—until it became complicated
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June 20, 2011

Three Grand

Sometime in the next week Derek Jeter could become the third-youngest player, and the first Yankee, to reach 3,000 hits. The road to that milestone was a simple one—until it became complicated

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Jeter, who once dated Mariah Carey, cut him off quickly and without a chuckle: "Easy ... easy."

Wells fell awkwardly silent; if only it were that easy for Jeter to bring his critics to heel.

Jeter swings a bat like a man in a phone booth trying to swat away a bee. He keeps his hands very close to his body—what hitters call staying inside the ball, because the hands never cross the imaginary line of the flight of the pitch—for a very long time as he brings the bat and his torso around. "It's really unique," says Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long. "I don't know if I've ever seen it where a guy can stay that tight to his body."

Jeter also hits with a leg kick and a long stride, and he tilts his upper body toward home plate. Jeter rarely breaks down his swing with video, but he has two key checkpoints when he does: his stride (to make sure his front foot doesn't land too close to home plate) and his tilt (to make sure it isn't too pronounced). It is, he says, his natural swing.

"I worked on staying inside the ball in the minor leagues and pretty much every offseason in Tampa with [coach] Gary Denbo," Jeter says. "But he didn't teach it to me. That's just how it was: Keep my hands inside the ball. It's still the same thing. A lot of people stay inside the ball, but I don't know about to that extreme."

Jeter's hands-in approach relies on making contact with the ball so late—farther in its flight path—that he can hit even inside pitches to the opposite field with authority. Entering this season, on pitches he hit to rightfield, Jeter had a .479 average and a .718 slugging percentage.

"All these years he's stayed true to what he does best," O'Neill says. "He had a year or two where he started to gain some strength and turned on some balls, but for the most part he is an example of taking something you do that is good and making it great. In a time when there was pressure in baseball to hit more home runs, he never caved in to that."

Jeter's style relies heavily on timing and hand speed, and those attributes lagged last season, when Jeter batted .270 and slugged .370, both career worsts. Instead of driving doubles and home runs, he pounded more ground balls than ever before. Jeter had finished third in the AL MVP voting only the previous year, but the Yankees saw his down 2010 season as an opening to take rare public shots at their captain in contract negotiations. General manager Brian Cashman pointed out the club's concerns over his performance and age and encouraged him to shop for a better deal.

Jeter eventually signed a three-year, $51 million deal that also allows him to exercise an option for a fourth year. Cashman knew the negotiations wounded Jeter. Before Jeter spoke to the media about the deal last Dec. 7, Cashman says he told him, "Give them the truth. I don't care if it makes our relationship look bad. It doesn't bother me."

Jeter agreed. He told reporters, "To hear the organization say, 'Go shop it,' and I just told [them] I wasn't going to... . Yeah, to be honest with you, I was angry about it." Jeter now says he's moved past the contract squabble. "It's over with," he says. "It was over after I addressed it, and I don't want to address it again."

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