"Guys are coming out of the pen throwing hard, and the ball moves," says Long. "Derek and I have talked about it many a time. I asked him, 'How many straight fastballs did you used to see?' He said, 'Everybody had a straight fastball.' Nowadays no one does. So it's different. He's been able to adjust with the times pretty well. He doesn't get enough credit for that."
Jeter is a career .312 hitter, but only two shortstops 37 or older ever batted .300 in a season (Wagner and Luke Appling), and none since 1949. "I think he has another run in him," says former teammate David Cone. "I think once he gets to 3,000, the spotlight on the individual milestone—which he doesn't like—goes away. I think he's going to feel a sense of freedom once all that goes away, and I can see him hitting .300 again."
At his parents' home, Jeter keeps a collection of baseballs saved from milestone hits: his first, his 1,000th, the 2001 World Series Game 4 walk-off homer, the hit that broke the record for the most hits at the old Yankee Stadium and the hit that broke the franchise record for hits set by Lou Gehrig. It was upon reaching 1,000, in September 2000, that Jeter began to think about 3,000.
"I thought if you play long enough and you're consistent enough, I don't see why that would be out of reach," he says, "but I didn't set it as a goal. It was just sort of matter of fact. Like, you've got a thousand. You're a third of the way there. You've got to play for a long time and be consistent, but it's not out of the question. My mind says anything is possible."
So Jeter will get there with the same P72 model bat, the same inside-out swing and the same craving for simplicity. The milestone is the confirmation of the strength and success of his ways. But it gets complicated too. As Jeter approaches 37 and tries to recapture more of the doubles in the gaps and home runs into the rightfield seats, the quest for 3,000 becomes an Escher tessellation, in which at once Jeter is chasing history and history is chasing Jeter.
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