Since he was a kid, playing shortstop for the New York Yankees is the only thing Derek Jeter has ever wanted to do. He’s made it, from the little league field all the way to Yankee Stadium. All it took was a lifetime of practice…plus a little help from his family, who have always been his greatest fans. Derek shared with us some of his thoughts about role models, volunteerism, and how to deal with a tough loss.
IML: What were you like in middle school? Were you ever bullied?
Derek: I had a lot of friends, and I kept safe because I made friends with the bullies. Plus, I played a lot of sports, so I got a chance to know a lot of people.
IML: What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you in school?
Derek: I always used to get in trouble for talking too much. When it was time for parent-teacher conferences, I remember that I was always embarrassed about what my parents would hear about me!
IML: Was baseball ever just 'fun' for you, back in little league or middle school? Did you ever treat it as just a game?
Derek: Definitely, and it still IS a game for me. Obviously, there are more demands off the field, but when I'm on the field, it's still as fun as it's always been. It may change when the game ends, but on the field, it's always fun.
IML: Aside from baseball, what are some other physical activities that you've been into, both as a kid and as an adult?
Derek: I've tried everything, including basketball and soccer. I was too skinny to play football, though! I did anything that had me running around and had to do with sports. Now I play baseball so much, there isn't much time for anything else.
IML: Why do you think it’s important for kids to find a
sport or activity that they really love?
Derek: Athletics keeps us healthy, gets us up and running around. It also gives you an opportunity to meet a lot of different people, which is very important.
IML: Do you remember your biggest school crush?
Derek: Yeah, it was in eighth grade. She actually ended up being my girlfriend in high school, though, so that worked out pretty well for me.
In his first minor league season after getting drafted by the Yankees, Derek made 53 errors…that’s about an error every other game, worse than most of us do in Little League! Instead of giving up, Derek figured that the best thing to do was to learn from his mistakes, and then forget them. His family helped, too. After each game was over, Derek would spend hours on the phone with his father Charles, who would help him figure out what he was doing wrong.
IML: As a leader, what do you feel is the most effective way to deal with a tough loss?
Derek: Learn from it. You're going to lose, especially at this level when you play so many games. In 1998, we had one of the best teams ever and we still lost 50 games. There are a lot of times you walk off the field after a loss, so you have to learn from your mistakes.
IML: You’re good friends with a lot of players on different teams. In fact, we hear that Alex Rodriguez (of the Texas Rangers) is one of your closest pals. He’s said in the past that playing against you make him want to work harder. Do you agree? Is it exciting to play against your best buds?
Derek: Yes! I enjoy competing against them, because I always want to beat them!
IML: Is it easy to separate the competition once you get off the field?
Derek: Oh, yeah. If I play my mom at something, I want to beat her pretty bad. But afterwards, she's still going to be my mom. That’s part of the fun of it all. But when I compete, I always want to win.
In addition to playing baseball, Derek has always had the goal of helping people. Actually, looking back on his career so far, it’s hard to say which goal Derek has accomplished more.
IML: When you were a kid, were your role models usually athletes? Any stand out?
Derek: I looked up to my parents because they were very successful in what they wanted to do. I was lucky, I didn't have to look far for role models. In terms of athletes, Dave Winfield (former Yankee) was my guy. He was drafted in three sports, which caught my eye. Plus, he's also the first athlete I know to start his own foundation. I thought it was pretty cool that this professional athlete was giving back to his community.
IML: What kinds of volunteer work did you do as a kid and/or teen?
Derek: I tutored in the computer lab when I was in school. I didn’t exactly love it, but as I got older, I learned the importance of volunteering.
IML: You were awarded the Joan Payson Award for community service in 1997. Why do you think it's important for kids to find a way to volunteer in their community?
Derek: For me, when I was a kid, volunteering was the last thing I was thinking about. When I see kids doing it now, it amazes me. It's very impressive, it gives them something productive to do as opposed to getting in trouble. For them to take time out at such a young age is remarkable. I think all kids should take a little time out to volunteer.
IML: You founded the "Turn 2 Foundation" to support and create activities and programs to prevent and treat teenage druge abuse. What's your advice to a kid who's curious about drugs and facing peer pressure to try them?
Derek: If you have dreams and aspirations to be successful, drugs and alcohol are only going to alter those dreams. Try to stay away from them and find something more productive to do with your time. The same people who are doing drugs and drinking as teens are, a lot of the time, the ones who end up doing nothing with their lives. So if you want to be a productive person, stay away from them. Try something more fun, like baseball!
IML: What's your favorite baseball movie?
Derek: I liked 61*, because it was informative and entertaining. I enjoyed that.
IML: Have you ever considered acting?
Derek: I hosted Saturday Night Live, but that's as far as I've gone. I had a great time doing it, but I was scared to death.
Even to this day, Derek still faces his fears. He went from committing 53 errors in a season to winning the Golden Glove and MVP of the World Series. He works hard and he plays hard, but he’s also a normal guy who likes to ‘veg’ out on the couch from time to time!
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