March 15, 2011
That unsung New York Yankees shortstop whose name, if I recall correctly, is Derek Jeter(notes) has flown under the radar long enough. As the lunchpail-carrying, work-a-day guy who has toiled in virtual anonymity during his unheralded 15-year career approaches his 3,000th hit, we baseball fans may finally get to know a little bit about this man in pinstripes. It's about time: 2011, dare I say, will be the Year of Derek Jeter!
OK, maybe because Jeter plays in such a high-profile city for such a high-profile team with so many high-profile girlfriends, every year is the Year of Derek Jeter. But for all his many, many honors that will one day be etched onto a nifty plaque in Cooperstown, none perhaps can match becoming the first New York Yankees player to ever notch 3,000 career hits.
If there's one thing baseball fans love even more than delicious beer, it's a tidy milestone with a bunch of zeroes at the end. There is something comforting about round numbers; the more goose eggs we can append to a non-zero integer, the better. Think 500 home runs, 300 pitcher wins, or that time the Phillies lost their 10,000th game. Numbers that are divisible by 100 put rear ends in seats.
Unfortunately, 2010 was not a fruitful season for Jeter. Despite winning another Gold Glove and being voted into the All-Star game again, he ended the year with career lows in batting average and slugging percentage, seemingly chopping grounders at well-placed infielders in every at-bat. But Jeter, a guy who used to collect 200-hit seasons like the rest of us collect nickels and dimes, needs just 74 hits before this magical odometer rolls over. For those of you planning your honeymoon around when his possible milestone date happens, he recorded his 74th hit last season on June 6. Plan accordingly.
Interestingly, the Yankees could have one of their players reach the 3,000-hit plateau during the 2012 season, too, if Alex Rodriguez(notes) averages at least 164 hits over the next two years. Totally doable. But other round-number milestones that could be attained this season include Jim Thome's(notes) assault at 600 career homers (he's 11 shy), Mariano Rivera's(notes) attempt to close out his 600th career save (needing 41) and Albert Pujols'(notes) 1,000th walk. Yawn. None of these marks have the same cachet as Jeter's preordained accomplishment, especially considering that the shortstop might have enough get-up-and-go to reach the top-five all-time hitsmen during his current four-year contract. Hey Tris Speaker, take a hike..
Having a reasonable sense of perspective about Jeter is difficult for someone who owns — and still wears — a 14-year-old Yankees T-shirt with the No. 2 on the back. Perhaps once Jeter collects his 3,000th hit I'll replace that ragged, faded, navy blue sign of my fandom with a new shirt that I can wear while my favorite shortstop chases down his next 1,000 hits.