Prologue: When Ari Met Seely
True story: In 2003, I personally broke the news to Ari Fleischer—then White House press secretary in the hell-spawned administration of George W. Bush—that the Yankees’ only decent starter of late, Jose Contreras, alias “the Bronze Titan,” had tweaked a gonad and was headed for the disabled list.
“Oh, no,” Fleischer said. “He’s our only decent starter of late.”
Ari had phoned to praise my hilarious op-ed piece in that morning’s New York Times. After a few spineless pleasantries, we cut to the glaring, red-meat issue of the day: the senior citizen kazoo band that was masquerading as the New York Yankees’ starting rotation. History will show that while Fleischer horribly understated the consequences of invading Iraq, his dire assessment of our pitching staff proved to be chillingly dead-on.
I tell this story not to boast about having a hilarious op-ed piece in the Times, an event so common that it’s beneath mention. I tell it to save a life. Your life.
Originally, I planned to model this book on John Grogan’s 2005 bestseller, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog, the inspirational, 300-plus-page tribute to his Labrador retriever, which was later transmogrified into an Owen Wilson movie and a lucrative series of spinoffs, including the children’s book A Very Marley Christmas. Hell, I’ve had dogs. Good dogs, each one as loyal and commercially viable as Marley. I quickly conceived a project with the working title “Me & Bullwinkle: Livin’ and Lovin’ with the World’s Most Commercially Viable Dog,” only to realize that every writer in America would be sniffing from the same literary kibble. I foresaw the bestseller list:
1. Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Tricksie
2. Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Fluffy
3. Glenn Beck, Arguing with Poodles: The Continuing Assault by Untrained Lap Dogs on Our Furniture
4. Barack Obama, The Audacity of Bo
5. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, Liv-a-Snaps for the Soul
That day brought a revelation: In our lives, baseball players fill the same niche as pets.
Think about it. Your favorite major leaguer’s career has the life span of a beagle. Some players go twenty years. Some get hit by Buicks. You’ve got your loyal Cal Ripkens, who never tire of fetching the ball, and your rabid Ty Cobbs, who need an iron muzzle and cattle-grade shock collar. Some players simply cannot be trained. You feed them, walk them, rub their tummies, but with the bases loaded and two out, they pee all over the carpet.
Applying the Marley template, I decided to write “Jeet & Me,” a delightful book and future motion picture about my amazing adventures with Derek Jeter. For example, there was his courageous 2004 headlong dive into the stands against Boston, his flip play at home plate in the 2001 playoffs, and his heartfelt speech in 2008 after the final game in Yankee Stadium. What about Jeet’s game-opening home run against the Mets in the 2000 Subway Series? Or the ball he hit that landed in twelve-year-old Jeffrey Maier’s outstretched glove in the 1996 postseason? Or his glorious 3,000th hit, a home run, in 2011? Let’s not forget his women: actresses, singers, supermodels, all of whom I often Google. I have so many fond memories of Derek, where would I start? (Of course, I’d store a few holiday chestnuts for “A Very Jeet Christmas.”)
There’s just one rub: during those inspirational Jeterian moments, I did not exist.
Generally, I have no clue where I was or what I was doing, other than that I was screaming at some cowering, defenseless TV. I was in a bar, or my living room, or hiding behind a couch—frozen like a Bond girl squealing “Look out, James!”—while some pitcher tried to separate Jeet from his sternum. In those situations, I was attempting to channel incalculable amounts of energy into Jeet’s astral plane, and I was surely frightening small children, most notably my own. But it’s all a thick, frothy blur. I wasn’t there. I was just watching on TV.
Good grief. At least with a dog, you get up and run around the yard. To scratch his belly, you don’t just lie on the couch and toggle a remote.
Some folks render unto humanity great gifts, such as American League pennants. Others exist to pace the rug, chew their knuckles, and watch. Sadly, I am of the latter species.
I am the wedding guest who leaves the crowded ballroom to monitor scores that scroll across the TV.
I am the father who can recite the Yankees’ Double-A pitching rotation at Trenton, but not his children’s middle school teachers.
I am one of the reasons so many people hate the Yankees, or at least Yankee fans.
I am that sad soul who is commonly introduced as “the biggest Yankee fan you’ll ever meet,” which is code for “Whatever you do, don’t mention the Yankees!”
I was always this way. The Yankees are the ghosts that whisper over my shoulder, the schizophrenic voice of God inside my head. In the shower, I rally the team, like Churchill addressing the collective British soul. Lying in bed, I converse with Derek, share pitching secrets with Mariano, and dispense fatherly advice to Joba.
Some say only Jesus Christ is capable of offering unequivocal love to those he will never know. They never met a Yankee fan.
But it’s not always love. Inside me lurks a dark, swaggering presence, a Yankee Mr. Hyde. I cannot control him. I cannot reason with him. He is coarse and insatiable, petty and vindictive, a truly bad sport. He cheers when enemy players get hurt. He forgives the behavior of any Yankee, knowing the only crime is losing. He would sell his soul, if he had one, for a decent bullpen lefty. When we win, he boils with the rapture of one who has been touched by God. And when we lose, he is measuring nearby bridges.
Throughout my life, I have seldom made personal decisions without seeking input from this monster, this fiend, who eyes me so disappointingly in the mirror.
I am not sure whether this book is a celebration of sports or a one-way journey into mental illness. But here goes . . .
True story: I win ballgames for the New York Yankees.