Jeter (.389) tunes out doubters as hits pile up

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter, who looks like his young self again, said he never listened when folks were speculating his career was on the wane early last year.

For the record, he said, "I don't listen. I don't speculate. I don't pay attention.''

Jeter suggested he never doubted himself even when he was struggling in the mid .200s three months into the season he turned 36 years old. He didn't actually say he never doubted himself because even discussing it goes against his code. But he suggested it.

"What do you think?'' he answered to the question about whether he doubted himself.

The answer came back. "Maybe not,'' I said.

"There you go,'' he said.

Jeter finished last season by hitting over .300 each of the last three months of that season. He hit .340 over those final three months, fourth best in the majors. Now he is batting a team-high .389 with four home runs.

Now those early-season struggles of a year ago seem so far away. To Jeter, they don't mattter. They never did. "I don't do negativity,'' he said.

I believe it all, almost all, anyway. Jeter tunes out the negative as well as anyone. But Jeter had to start wondering what was up when he was struggling the first three months of last season. Had to. At least a little. You'd think so, anyway.

"I'm sure he had a little something seep into his mind. but you do your best to fight it,'' Yankees icon Reggie Jackson said.

Jeter can fight as well as anyone. He also had history on his side.

"He's in a class of all the great players, and not too many of those players fall down at 36,'' Jackson said. "Most of them are still rolling at 36. So he had reason to believe he would, too.''

Jeter's world has almost no room for doubt. In Jeter's world, nothing's changed from the time he was 20 to 30 to now, at 37. He said as much.

In Jeter's world, he only struggled early last season because he experimented with a different hitting technique. He experimented going without a stride early last year. "I tried to make an adjustment ... it didn't work,'' he said.

He doesn't mention that the reason he tried the no-stride thing was his off year in 2010. But again, there is no room for negativity. It is a great way for a professional athlete to be.

Jeter also doesn't buy the theory, espoused by just about everyone but him, that the 3,000-hit goal was wearing on him early last year. Even Yankees manager Joe Girardi has speculated that that might be the case. And Jackson said, "I'm sure it did.''

Jackson recalled it weighed on him when he going for 500 home runs. And he recalls telling himself when he came to bat against lefthander Bud Black, standing at homer No. 499, "I'm going for distance.'' And he got it.

But Jackson is Jackson, one of a kind. Jeter is in that class of athlete that admits no weakness, or even a touch of selfishness. He insists the 3,000 hits didn't weigh on him, though once he got to No. 3,000 against Tampa Bays' David Price, the hits came pouring out.

Jeter says his 3,000th hit, on July 8, wasn't the turning point. Jeter came back from the disabled list July 4. That to him was the turning point. He said he believes the time away was the time he needed to find himself again. 

He said anyone who says that 3,000 weighed on him or even speculates the same is just plain "wrong.''

Even if it did, you know Jeter wouldn't admit it. He concedes nothing. At one point, I asked him his age, and he said 30.

I half believed that he believes it.
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