His mother never let him say the word “can’t.”
His father made him sign a contract every year pledging to adhere to acceptable forms of personal behavior, or else he wouldn’t be allowed to play the sport that he loved most: baseball.
Derek Jeter was the obedient son.
And now, one of the sport’s most respected figures is on the verge of bringing that discipline and positive work ethic to the Miami Marlins as part of an ownership group that has agreed to buy the team from Jeffrey Loria.
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“Derek’s easy to talk about because he’s a kid I’ve known since he first stepped into major league spring training,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, whose final year with the New York Yankees in 1995 coincided with Jeter’s first in the Bronx. “There’s nothing to lead you to believe that he’s not going to be successful at whatever he wants to do.”
Jeter starred as a shortstop for 20 years in the majors, all with the Yankees.
He won five World Series rings. He won Gold Gloves and was named to All-Star teams. He totaled more than 3,400 hits, stole more than 300 bases and ended his playing career in 2014 with a .310 average.
The Yankees retired his No. 2 in May, gave him a monument with all the other Yankees greats, from Babe Ruth to Yogi Berra, from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle, and from Whitey Ford to Lou Gehrig.
He was their “Captain,” their leader.
But the numbers only begin to tell the story of Jeter, who commanded the respect of teammates and opponents like few others.
Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, one of the all-time greats, said few players commanded as much respect as Jeter did when he played with and against him.
Suzuki, who was Jeter’s teammate on the Yankees from 2012-2014, said no player ever struck him as anyone who would go on to become an owner or head of a team’s baseball operations department, a role Jeter is expected to assume with the Marlins if the sale is ultimately approved.
“If you had asked me that,” Suzuki said, “there’s probably nobody I would have thought of that would fill that role. But, actually, [Jeter] is the one player you could actually see doing that, not just because he’s a smart baseball man. He has a passion for baseball, and deep feelings for baseball.”
Suzuki said Jeter was so even-keeled that it was impossible to tell whether he was having a good or bad day.
“You wouldn’t know if he was on a good streak or a bad streak,” Suzuki said. “There are very few people I have seen that have been able to do that, day after day — come in and work without knowing whether they’re up or down. He was able to control his emotions, and that left an impression on me.”
It was grounded in him from an early age by his parents. His mother was an accountant, his father a substance-abuse counselor. Born in Pequannock, N.J., the family moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., when he was 4.
“I was always afraid of disappointing my parents,” Jeter once said in a “60 Minutes” interview.
He was a high school standout, prompting the Yankees — his favorite boyhood team — to take him with the sixth overall pick in the 1992 amateur draft. But success on the field didn’t come immediately. In 1993, his first full season in the minors, he made 56 fielding errors.
In time, though, Jeter became a star. He was named American League Rookie of the Year in 1996 and remained a mainstay in the Yankees’ lineup until his final game in 2014.
“You never saw Derek in any type of controversy, or anything that would be away from his character,” Mattingly said.
Unlike so many other stars of the so-called “Steroids Era,” Jeter’s name was never linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
There’s nothing to lead you to believe that he’s not going to be successful at whatever he wants to do.
Don Mattingly, Marlins manager
He never ran afoul of the law. Aside from relationships with entertainers (Mariah Carey) and models (Vida Guerra), he managed to stay out of the tabloids. He married model Hannah Davis last year and the two are expecting a child.
Now he is on the cusp of trying to raise not only a child, but a Major League franchise — the Marlins — that has struggled on and off the field. The Marlins haven’t enjoyed a winning season since 2009, the longest drought in the majors, and haven’t reached the playoffs since defeating Jeter’s Yankees in 2003. Only the Seattle Mariners have gone longer between postseason appearances.
Mattingly doesn’t doubt that Jeter can turn things around.
“I think people with his kind of ability as a player ... that translates into business, just like it does with anything else,” Mattingly said. “I think that [Jeter’s] foundation of hard work, determination, confidence — all those things — leads you to believe that Derek’s going to be successful at whatever he wants to do.”