Saturday, July 2, 2011

Confessions of a Jeter Cheater

Derek Jeter cheats.

Yes, the 37 year old, future hall-of-fame baseball player, the Yankees shortstop who just signed a 51 million dollar contract to stay with the team another three years, was called out for cheating in the New York Times Magazine last weekend. I’m not talking about his tax dispute with New York State from 2008. I’m talking about the way he plays.

Cheating, in baseball, is what older players do when they make slight adjustments to their playing style to cope with their diminishing skills. It’s perfectly legal. They swing a little earlier at bat, since their eyesight might not be as good as it once was, or perhaps they try to hit without a stride to add precious seconds to their time at the plate. Since baseball is a game of statistics, people notice. (This year Jeter came dead last amongst shortstops in a couple of defensive statistics.) And aging as an athlete in front of millions of fans cannot be an easy experience.

Even though I’m a soccer player and not a professional ball player, I cheat too. Now Jeter and I make marginally different salaries (I don’t own a 30,000 square foot home nicknamed ‘St. Jetersburg’), I may have slightly less fans, and I have not been romantically linked with anyone with a title that includes the words ‘sexiest’ or ‘universe’, but otherwise, we’re identical. My soccer game, since my ACL repair, is more passing and less shooting. When it’s time for my team to take a corner kick, I often find it’s time for me to concentrate on tying something on my shoelace so that someone else will take it. It makes me glad no one is keeping track of my statistics, or writing national magazine articles about my cheating.

Can you spot the difference?

(Large aside: The more you think about it of course, the more you realize that almost everything we do in life as adults is a form of cheating-- sometimes to make up for our diminished capabilites, and sometimes because we run out of time. For example:
- Recently I bought one of those supermarket roast chickens and served it to my family as though I had prepared it myself. Cheating? Sort of. Although it is a bit of work to cut the meat off of there.
- When I put on makeup, I’ve noticed in the last year or so I don’t bother looking in the normal side of the round mirror- I always flip over to the magnified side. Cheating? Yup. Sometimes I even start out of the magnified side and don’t realize it, and then try to flip the mirror over to the magnified side only to find that everything has miraculously shrunk. What’s going on?
- I wear black almost all the time. This is double cheating, really. We all know black is slimming, so that’s a cheat for sure, but another reason I wear black is that I am filthy (and not in a good way.) Black hides almost all dirt. The other day as I was just about to leave the house, I dropped half a cup of coffee and splashed it all over myself. I swore, grabbed a towel and dabbed at the coffee on my black clothes, then said ‘meh’, and left the house without changing. Total cheat.)

Overall, the New York Times Magazine article about Jeter was totally depressing. Do I need to be reminded that aging sucks and that we all adjust to cope with it? But there were a couple of sweet spots in the article, and I will share them with you: the first is that the Dallas Mavericks, an aging basketball team, beat the much younger and much more hyped Miami Heat in the NBA finals recently. How? According to the article, “Crafty older players find ways to compensate for their loss of quickness. Cleverness matters.” I love it that sometimes, experience trumps youth.

Secondly, I love this: “...(the modern thinking is that) today’s players, who condition themselves year-round – often with the help of private trainers, the most up-to-date scientific methods, nutritionists and massage therapists- play longer and have more years of peak performance. It makes sense. It’s also not true.” Wait, WHAT?! Yup. Babe Ruth, who they lovingly call ‘rotund’ and ‘hard-living’, played longer professionally than many current ball players and is largely considered to be the greatest baseball player of all time. Do you think he had a nutritionist? Pfft.

To celebrate these small victories for us middle aged folks, I am going to have a milkshake. Don’t worry, I will wear black, in case I spill anything. Then maybe I'll play some soccer. Care to join me?

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