by Kerry Gillard
After seeing Derek Jeter’s last at bat as a major league baseball player on Sunday September 28th, 2014, I had a sudden urge to read his book, The Life You Imagine, again. Written in 2000 with Jack Curry it is interesting to read now, 14 years later, and see how much further he has progressed in his career without changing as a person. When the book was written Derek had been with the Yankees in the majors for 4 seasons and part of a 5th and he makes several references to hoping that he will have a career that will last 10 seasons if he is lucky. Reading that when his career has finally finished as a player with 20 seasons under his belt makes you realize that even he did not know how amazing his baseball career would be.
Since moving to Canada almost 16 years ago I have been a die-hard Toronto Blue Jays fan so the Yankees, as our division rivals, have been the team I love to hate. Through all that rivalry, however, I have always loved watching Jeter play. His conduct both on and off the field has always been exemplary and he was such a good role model over the 20 years of his major league career in a time when baseball has not always had the most stellar of reputations.
The Life You Imagine is a great insight into how he was raised and his own standards of behaving that have led to how he has become such an inspirational player. While there is obviously a lot about baseball in the book it is primarily a guide on how to conduct yourself in life to get the most out of it, whether you are the multi-millionaire starting shortstop for the Yankees or the part-time crossing guard for your local school. Focusing on how he attained his dreams through hard work (and let’s face it, not a little talent!) Derek passes on things that he has learnt through hardships on his journey to let people know that no matter what life gives you, you can make the most of it. There are many mentions in the book of Derek’s achievements from little league through the majors but these are done with no sense of arrogance. It is merely stating facts and being proud of those facts without rubbing them in people’s faces. At one point Derek admits that he is arrogant in his playing because he believes he is always going to get a hit or make the play and he is happy to have that show in how he plays, but never in how he speaks or conducts himself.
Derek was six years old when he first decided he was going to be a Yankee. His parents were always supportive of him but also instilled in him from an early age that if he really wanted this he was going to have to work for it; it was not going to be handed to him on a platter. He mentions several times in the book that there are people who think he was an overnight success as he was so young when he started his major league career. Yes, he was very young and yes, he was drafted from high school; but he had been working at his dream for years previously. From the agreement with his parents on how he would conduct himself to his work ethic in the minor leagues, he never stopped working at improving his natural-born skill. When his friends came over after school they would happily wait and watch TV inside while Derek took practice swings in the garage. When he made an error in the minors he would spend extra time on the field practicing how not to make that same mistake again. These are things that he says can be applied to any kind of work or dream; just because you have the start of the dream or are good at your job don’t sit back and ride the past, work at improving for the future. This seems to have been a mantra for him through his career and it definitely seems to have helped.
Derek is very candid in his book about the issues that he and his sister Sharlee faced coming from a mixed race family. Derek’s parents met and married in a time when mixed race marriages were still rare but they never let that become an issue for their children. For a long time Derek did not even realise that not everyone had one black parent and one white parent. That unfortunately did not stop other people from throwing racist comments at the children but again, their parents were prepared and turned it around. One example he cites is when some children called Derek and Sharlee Oreos. Their mother sat them down and asked them if they liked Oreo cookies. Both children replied that they did and their mother said that everyone loves Oreos and so they shouldn’t be upset about the comment. It worked with them while they were children and gave them an understanding for later in life that people may say horrible things about your for many reasons but how you deal with that comment is the important thing. This, he advises, can be applied to anything in life and not letting negative people get to you will make your life that much happier. His quote of “Don’t let someone else’s ignorance dominate you” is something that we should all apply to ourselves. Another advising that “people will say stupid things but that doesn’t mean that you should let them adversely impact you”, he acknowledges is not always easy but it is the best approach if you want to keep positive in your life.
Another area in which Derek provided some very candid thoughts was his recollection of his time in the minor leagues. When watching Derek playing for the Yankees, it is hard to believe that he could have spent most nights in his early minor league career crying himself to sleep. Or that he felt his 56 errors in his first full year at Class A ball were something that he might never get past. I was surprised and pleased that he opened up so honestly about a difficult time in his life but he felt that it was necessary to show that no matter what hardships you endure, if you keep going and learn from them, you can still attain your dreams. His constant reminder not to give up and sit back the first time something goes wrong is something he feels very strongly about and I agree that it is something from which we can all learn. One of my favourite quotes from the book is “if you can learn from your mistakes and don’t let the negativity fester, then you really haven’t failed at all”.
The main theme throughout the book is one of family. Derek is extremely proud of his parents and his sister and it shines through in every comment. He acknowledges how hard it was for his sister given that she was younger and therefore was always being compared to him, or simply being known as Derek Jeter’s sister. Through all that however, they maintained a very strong sibling bond and he mentions a number of times that he does not know what he would do without her. It would also have been very easy for his parents to focus on Derek’s career and not give as much attention to Sharlee, but they tackled the issue of a famous child with all the normality they had with the upbringing of their children. When Derek had his first game for the Yankees, it was on the same day as Sharlee had a softball game so their Dad went to watch Derek and their Mom went to watch Sharlee. When people asked him about the fact that both his parents had not been there he was surprised at the question because in his mind, and his parents’, there were two children and two parents so each child got a parent at their event. This strong family bond is, in my opinion, what has helped keep Derek grounded and I am happy that this is a strong theme in the book not only with his blood family but with the family he made at the Yankees organization. Family is something that is always there for you whether bound by blood or not, and I was happy to see such a positive reinforcement of this.
Part of how Derek was able to give back and impart some of the important life lessons he learned from his parents and his work was to start the Turn 2 Foundation. This foundation provides not just baseball clinics but scholarships, after school programs and clinics for helping children deal with drugs and alcohol abuse. Turn 2 fits in perfectly with the lessons Derek is imparting in his book about giving to others when you have the opportunity and helping others make the most of themselves.
The final lesson in the book is to never assume the worst. I think this is very important and something everyone can benefit from. We are all guilty of thinking that someone doesn’t like us or that we are not doing well in something before getting any actual feedback and this can definitely hold us back. While I don’t think that you can get through life just thinking about the positive to the exclusion of everything else trying to see the positive in any given situation can definitely make choices a little easier.
Overall I really enjoyed The Life You Imagine. I have an interest in baseball but I don’t think that knowing anything about baseball or about Derek Jeter is necessary in order to get a lot out of this book. It is a great guide to a positive lifestyle and could just as easily be in the self-help section of a bookstore as the sports section. It is as relevant now in 2014 as it was when it was written in 2000 and maybe has even more impact when you see that Derek continued to live his life as he always had despite becoming one of the most recognized people in baseball.
Next baseball season will be the first season I have ever watched that did not have Derek Jeter playing for the Yankees and, despite my rivalry-induced dislike for the team, this saddens me. I hope that all the young players in the majors today will look at his career and see that honesty, integrity and playing the game for the game are the best ways to make yourself great. You can see this just from watching games in which he played but I recommend anyone to read The Life You Imagine and see how you can make a difference wherever you are and whatever you do.