Derek Jeter has over 3,600 hits since debuting with the Yankees in 1995. If the all-time great can be taken at his word, virtually every one of them has come via the same, simple approach: See the ball, hit the ball.
It’s hard to believe it’s that simple – surely there are details he didn’t disclose? – but that’s what he told me prior to a recent game in Boston.
When I approached Jeter at his locker – next to the tunnel leading to the dugout, his usual spot in Fenway Park’s cramped visiting clubhouse – he said he was on his way into the trainer’s room, but would try to find time later. Looking up from his chair, he added, “But as far as my hitting approach, I don’t think very much.”
The following day, Jeter found time. He waved me into the dugout, right before stretch and batting practice. “I only have a few minutes,” he warned – his tone almost apologetic – and we sat down to talk hitting.
The first thing I asked was how much he has changed over the years. How different is he today from the player who signed out of Kalamazoo [MI] Central High School in 1992 and reached the big leagues three years later?
“I might be a little more upright, with maybe a little less movement,” Jeter told me. “But the overall hitting mechanics, I think, are pretty much the same. My approach hasn’t changed at all. I don’t like to complicate things. A lot of guys complicate things, but I don’t. I like to keep things as simple as possible.”
I asked the future Hall of Famer if that means looking middle and adjusting, with a see-ball-hit-ball approach.
“Yes, that’s it,” responded Jeter. “I look for the fastball. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to swing at other pitches, but I look fastball. You adjust to off-speed pitches. I don’t think you adjust to a fastball.”
What about video and reports?
“Too much to think about,” responded Jeter. “I can’t hit if I have too much to think about. I don’t think as much as most guys. I just stick with what’s worked. Regardless of who is on the mound, I’m going to be exactly the same with my approach. All I want to know is what the pitcher is throwing – what pitches he has – and his velocity. That’s pretty much it.”
Jeter is 40 years old and in his 20th big-league season. Baseball is a game of constant adjustments, and players commonly make changes as they age. I asked how much tinkering he’s done over the years.
“I tinkered with things when I was 21 years old,” Jeter told me. “I still do now, but there’s never been anything major. I’m not one to change too much, and I’ve never done anything to concede to age.”
After hitting a non-Jeter-esque .270/.340/.370 in 2010, the Yankees legend reportedly made mechanical adjustments early in the following season. They didn’t last. Gary Denbo, who Jeter says knows his swing better than anybody – they began working together when Jeter was 18 years old — convinced him to return to what he’d always done. Unfortunately, I neglected to ask Jeter about this.
I did ask about his approach to breaking out of slumps. Jeter has been remarkably consistent – he’s hit .292 or better 16 times – but he’s also human. How does he get back on track when he does struggle?
“I just keep playing,” answered Jeter. “It’s a game of failure. I don’t care who you are, you’re going to go through stretches where you’re going good and you’re going to go through stretches where you’re going bad. You just keep playing. Repetition. That’s the only thing. Sometimes it’s a comfort thing and sometimes there’s no explanation. There’s no reason – no rhyme or reason – so you just keep playing and sometimes it clicks and sometimes it disappears. When it disappears, you wonder where it goes.”
Jeter’s inside-out stroke is seemingly tailor-made for Yankee Stadium, but what if he’d spent his career with Fenway as his home park? Would he have been the same hitter?
“Yes, you are who you are,” said Jeter. “I don’t change because of the stadium we’re playing in. I grew up thinking that way. You are who you are, and you’re the player that you are. You try to improve the things you do well, but I wouldn’t adjust if I played somewhere else. Like I said, I’ve never been one to change much. I like to keep things as simple as possible.”
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