NEW YORK -- Have you ever taken a poll or a test, given rushed answers before you had a chance to think things through, and then spent the rest of the night wishing you had answered differently?
I have. And one I keep coming back to was a quintessential mid-summer's New York poll, a one-question survey administered by a writer with one of the tabloids at an All-Star Game five or six years ago.
The question was, which New York shortstop would you take right now, today, this very minute, if you were to build a team: Derek Jeter, the aging Prince of the Yankees, or Jose Reyes, then the latest Mets flavor of the month?
Seduced by youth and promise, I picked Reyes.
And right now, at 30,000 feet, crammed into aisle seat 34C while winging toward another Jeter-infused World Series, I'd like to say this for the record: What a dope.
By far, the best thing about the Yankees' return to October this fall following their interminable one-year absence is the opportunity again to watch Jeter, 35, on the big stage.
By far, the best thing about the Yankees' re-emergence in the World Series following a five-year detour through the woods is getting one more chance to watch this Pinstriped Picasso paint another masterpiece.
Without Jeter last fall, the postseason was October without pumpkin pie, Halloween without trick-or-treaters.
Watching him decode a high-stakes game, be it throwing behind Minnesota's Nick Punto to nail him at third or firing a strike behind the Angels' Bobby Abreu to scorch him at second, remains as riveting a show as there is today.
"He's got eyes in the back of his head," Mike Scioscia says, and I'm pretty sure the Angels manager means that literally. "He has field sense like no one else in baseball."
|World Series links|
Knobler: Title or bust for Phillies, Yankees
Over these next several days as the Yankees tangle with the Phillies in a throwback World Series that could have been played by these two history-steeped franchises in, say, 1950 (matter of fact, the Phils and Yanks did play in the '50 Series), we will be inundated with facts, figures and statistics.
This already is my favorite:
Since Jeter's rookie season in 1996, he has played in a total of 2,270 regular and postseason games.
During that time, the man has played in exactly two in which he definitively knew it was the last game of his season. Two!
The first one was in the 2001 World Series, when the Yankees and Diamondbacks played Game 7. The second was the final game of the 2008 season, when the Yankees had been eliminated.
That's it. In Jeter's other 12 full seasons, he and the Yankees either were attempting to extend their season in the playoffs or stop their opponent from extending its season by winning a title.
Yankees haters despise him. Sabermetric analysts helpfully advance defensive metrics to point out that he's vastly overrated. Probably, there are jilted girlfriends somewhere who will claim his sartorial elegance is their doing, too.
OK, I get it. And truth be told, late at night, when I'm under my covers, sometimes all the gushing creeps me out, too. Like when I turn the magazine page and there's yet another full-page ad of Mr. Perfect modeling a Movado watch, pitching a Visa card, or whatever it is this month. Grrr.
|What's a postseason without the Derek Jeter fist-pump? (Getty Images)|
My memory at times is beyond terrible, yet I still vividly see Jeter's famous flip play in Oakland in 2001 to catch an un-sliding Jeremy Giambi as if I was sitting in that press box seat watching it happen right now.
It's still the best clutch play I've ever seen.
Yet Jeter makes those kind of plays with incredible (Yankees haters, feel free to substitute the word "maddening") frequency, the way Mitch Albom writes best-sellers.
Watching his eyes in the split-second before throwing out Punto in Minnesota was like watching a coiled snake just before it strikes.
"Jeter wins games," Reggie Jackson says. "He makes all the right throws. I don't know how he does it. I'm digging it. I'll watch him in the movie."
Word of warning: Hollywood is going to have to jazz up the personal side of that before release. Because as much as I enjoy watching the guy, there are few interview subjects I've found as bland as Jeter over these past 14 years.
He is unfailingly polite and resolutely remote. He is beyond vanilla. Measured against Jeter, vanilla is risqué and wild.
Those polls I mentioned a bit ago? Jeter's taken them, too. Several springs ago, he took one of mine. I was writing a column on big-game pitchers, and I asked several players this: If you could pick one pitcher in history, from any era, to start a Game 7 for your team, who would it be?
"Ah, I really couldn't answer that," Jeter said. "There are so many."
"Come on," I said. "Just one. Anybody."
"Bob Gibson? Sandy Koufax? Lots of players have picked them."
"Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina."
"Just one of those three?"
"They're all good. I really couldn't pick just one."
I'll give you three guesses as to which pitchers made up three-fifths of the Yankees rotation that year.
He is the perfect teammate, and the consummate Yankee.
Over the years, attempting to crack that hardened exterior, I've sidled up to him at times to discuss Michigan football, a common interest of ours. That rarely fails to light a spark ... which he quickly extinguishes if I segue into some probing question about the Yankees.
Still, it was pretty worth it a couple of years ago when I saw the Yankees not long after Michigan had suffered one of the most humiliating losses in school history and I asked him, simply: "Appalachian State?!"
"That was just a scrimmage, wasn't it?" he deadpanned, eyes twinkling.
He can be exceedingly eloquent when he chooses, as during his classy farewell speech to the old Yankee Stadium late last season.
"We're relying on you to take the memories from this stadium, add them to the new memories that come at the new Yankee Stadium and continue to pass them on from generation to generation," Jeter told the crowd that night.
Now, in the new Yankee Stadium's first October dance, fittingly, Jeter is on hand to help usher in some of the earliest of those new memories.
As he does, again we will watch his autumn smirk, that look in which he appears to know more about what's happening -- and what's about to happen -- than anyone else on the field.
Again we will see his autumn smile, the Cheshire cat grin that makes him look as if he's having the time of his life and not more than a day or two removed from the playgrounds of his youth.
"He plays hard every day, every play," Yankees manager Joe Girardi says. "He never takes a play off. He never takes a pitch off. Physically, you see him play beat up. You see him play sick. We had to tie him down in the Mets series [earlier this season] he was so sick. He had a 102, 103 fever. We had to tie him down and say, 'No, you're not playing.'"
Jeter or Reyes?
A few years down the road, the answer now -- as it should have been then -- could not be clearer:
Ha! Hahaha! Hahahahahahaha!
It is October. The buck-toothed jack-o-lanterns are glowing. The leaves are falling. And, again, it is Jeter's time.