Saturday, February 15, 2014

Derek Jeter (clap…clap…clap.clap.clap)

It was a blink of an eye.  One stop of many.  Just an attempt to hold on on a minor league deal with a spring invite that didn't last, but I was a Yankee for a spring.  I am going to sound a bit like Crash Davis here, but it was glorious.  I tweaked my back early in camp and had TWO great massage therapist and a chiropractor at my disposal.  I had lost weight that off season and didn't want it back, so the chefs (plural) asked me what foods I liked that were on my healthy list.  It was different to say the least!  We had a GM in a wheel chair from a sky diving accident.  There was a future Japanese Hall of Famer who was also a future MLB Hall of Famer three lockers down.  For crying out loud Al Roker worked out with us!  The thing, however, that stands out the most from this memorable spring was #2, the captain and how he leads more naturally than any person I've ever met.

I've never been big on captains in baseball, but all it took was a brief stint in an exhibition season with Derek Jeter, and I changed my mind.  Before you accuse me of having a man crush, don't bother, I know I have one.  It has absolutely nothing to do with his rumored and famed life off the field.  (in fact, as a Christian dad, when teaching my sons and daughter! about some of the greatest players of all time, I will not even mention his dating exploits :) It had everything to do with the way he commanded the respect, without trying, of every alpha male, in that locker room.  

The very first day of camp, there was a rookie being really loud, and let's just say overly confident.  It was such that my face must have let on that I was really annoyed by it, and the strength coach walked over to me and said, "he'll quiet down as soon as #2 gets here."  Not ten minutes later Derek walks in and the room, and the rookie, came to a respectful noise level and tone.  I don't want to come across that the captain being there made things too serious.  Not at all!  He was a kid at heart.  He has as much fun as anyone playing the game, and helps his teammates do the same.  I think this last story will capture what I'm trying to say:

The first game in spring in a new locker room you're never quite sure what the rules are.  Do all 70 in camp have to stay for the game if they aren't scheduled to play?  If not what level of service time lets you leave early?  If you do stay, and there's no room on the bench is it ok to watch the game on the T.V.s  in the clubhouse?  You can understand my questions now.  So who better to ask but the guy who's been there 20 years.  His locker was only two from mine so it was easy.  Our brief conversation went something like this:
          
           Me: "He Jete, what are the rules about leaving?"
           Jeter:  "Oh man, you can leave, it's  no big deal around here, and besides, with 70 people in         
           camp who will even notice."

Ten minutes later I was in my street clothes and heading for the door when I hear a voice.  Not just any voice, the voice I spoke about earlier that brings a locker rooms volume down and commands respect.  So I turned around, and sitting at his locker with the wryest smile I've ever seen is Derek Jeter saying, "Hey DYE-az (I think he got a kick out of me saying my last name incorrectly) you just going to leave without watching a single pitch?"  With 140 eyes staring at me, it dawns on me that his whole "who will even notice," speech was a set up for this moment.  I go blank!  I have no answer!  I just walk into the video room and wait a minute and then leave.  (I had seen a player or two already leave so I talked myself into it) 

 By the time I get to my car Jeter is being pulled into his car next to mine on the golf cart (he had a bad ankle so they carted him places).  He hadn't watched a single pitch either, and he was so proud of setting me he could hardly contain it.  I was proud that I was worthy in his mind to be set up.  I no longer felt like just another minor league invite.  I felt like part of the team.  Like I said I didn't last.  I don't think I hit a ball out of the infield all camp, but on the first day of games Jeter didn't know that.  All he knew was that maybe I could help the Yankees at some point that year.  He, without trying, without forcing anything, in a fun way brought me in, by calling me out.  (that only makes sense if you've lived with or been around a bunch of guys but it works!)  

It's no mystery that Derek Jeter will be remembered as one of the greatest players ever.  One of the best on the biggest stages.  But if you ask players one word to describe him, I'm sure the word they would use the word, WINNER.  There's a reason for that.  I would venture to say that talent and leadership have never collided in one person like it did with Derek Jeter in our sports history.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What's next?

     This is a blog that I've known for a while I was going to write.  I just didn't officially decide to write it until last night.  I'm moving on in my life from playing baseball.  Notice, I didn't say, I was done with baseball!  How could anyone who loves the game ever "be done."  And certainly I love the game!  I love the way it taught me to fail and get over it.  I love the way it helped me become the man I am today.  I love the way it's provided for me and my family.  There's so much to love about this game.  I just don't love playing it anymore, and that's how I know it's time to not pursue a job playing this year.      
     When I was talking to my dad about this last night, he said, "you should have no regrets on the field or off of it."  This was a great thing to hear, but really since 2011 I have not been as driven playing as I had before.  And, to be totally honest, this has led to some regrets on the field.  Sure I hustled when I'd put a ball in play, and I'd work out hard in the off season, but mentally, I was not as focused or as hungry as I had been earlier in my career.  That is regrettable!  I knew if I played this year, not only would I have regrets on the field, but I knew I'd have regrets off.  See the pictures below :)  I'm ready to be daddy.  I'm ready to tuck my kids in bed most nights, and if I leave for work, I want Leslee and the kids to be able to be home, not in some rental house in Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Orleans, etc.
 
     These feelings were confirmed as I was saying our night time prayers with Nathan, my oldest, last night, and I thanked God for giving me peace about not playing baseball anymore, and he literally tore the covers off of him and grabbed me in the hardest hug he's ever given me.  With happy tears in his eyes he asked me if I was serious.  So family time is next for me!  But there's a lot more too!
     I don't feel though that I can go any further in this blog without looking back.  There are so many people to thank.  I truly feel that I would not have made it to the big leagues at all or at least stayed as long with out these people and many others.

My Family:  

Leslee, Nathan, Anna and Jake:  The baseball life is pretty cool, but most people don't understand the sacrifices you made to let me do what I loved!  Leslee, you became a single mom 6 months a year, but loved me so perfectly that you let me jump in as Daddy as soon as I came home.  I love you more now than ever, and I still feel like I did the first time I called you after getting called up to the big leagues, "WE made it!"
 Dad, Mom, Zach, Ben, and Jonny:  Everyone of you played a part in making me who I was on the field and off.  Mom and Dad you were my first coaches, Zach, my favorite teammate of all time, and Jonny and Ben the younger brothers that made me want to leave a good example.  While I strived to succeed for the name on the front of my jersey, I never forgot that I represented the name on the back too!  I hope I did it proud.  (even with the few expletives that could be heard on TV :)
Barry, Drew and Ashley:  I have the best in-laws ever!  Drew and Ashley your council after getting sold to Japan in 2007 by the Braves was invaluable.  Thank you for skipping the play you were at to come remind Leslee and me that there was a bigger picture, and baseball was about more than money.  (For those of you reading this Leslee and I ultimatly said no to our first multimillion dollar contract that night, and decided to stay in the states)

My Coaches:

Coach Carpenter:  You taught me so much, I could never fit it all in here.  Please know I love you!
Eleven:  You toughened me up, and helped me become a man on the field, Thank You!
Meat:  You are the most underrated coach in all of college sports, you gave me a weird swing that worked for me.  Thanks for not being a "cookie cutter coach"
Charlie Montoyo, Bill Evers, Skeeter Barnes, Steve Henderson of all the minor league coaches I had you guys stand out.  Thanks for keeping us focused on getting better and not bitter :)
Bob Schafer:  The day you took over as interim manager in Kansas City you called me up, and you were the one who told John Schuerholz that I may be a fit in Atlanta, I'll never forget that.
Bobby Cox: You helped me be better than I ever thought I could be.  You taught me how to lead, and that's one of the most valuable traits I've ever learned.

My Teammates:

There are too many of you to list, but just of few who I cannot go any further without thanking.
Chipper: Why a future Hall of Famer decided it was worth his time to help a career AAA guy still escapes me, but I thank God you did!
BMac, Frenchie, Kelly, Pete, Langy, Huddy:  Some of my best baseball memories are that 2006 season and each of you played a part in making that so fun.  (Kelly even though you were hurt you really showed me how to be a teammate)
Nortey, Hinske, Rossy, Prad:  I sat the bench many nights with y'all and really enjoyed every minute.
Like I said this list could go on forever, just know how much I enjoyed sharing the baseball life with all of you!

My Influencers:

Larry Reynolds, Pat Murphy and Mike Dillon:  You guys set out to have a family like agency, and you have more than accomplished it.  I could never have imagined loving my agents the way I love all three of you.  Larry, thank you for your spiritual and life guidance as much as your baseball wisdom.  Pat, I know there's no one in your profession that works harder or believes in their players as much as you do.  Mike, who'd of thought that a New Yorker and a country boy with a Latino name could become such good friends you are amazing at what you do.  I look forward to continuing my friendships with all three of you!

Matt Kinzer:  At some time in my life you have taken on almost all of the above roles,  Family, Agent, Coach.  You are the HEAT!

Chuck Foss:  Thank you for getting ahold of me early and helping me understand that million dollar contracts don't last forever.  Thank you for setting me and my family up financially for life.  Lastly thank you for believing in me enough to let me come work with you to help others use money as a tool to help them do good for their families as well for projects they are passionate about.

I have missed so many people here.  I appreciate and respect all the clubbies I've ever had.  My video guys, especially you Rob Smith, had to deal with me perhaps more than any other player.  Thank you!  I cannot even come close to naming all the people I want to right now.  

Lastly I want to thank my fans.  It's still surreal to say that.  I had/have fans.  I'm a very average baseball player who enjoyed a lot of blessing and good timing.  The fact that you all cheered me the way you did, especially in Atlanta, will stay with me the rest of my life.  I'm humbled, amazed, flabbergasted etc!  What a ride it's been, but it's not over.

This is the turning of a page.  This makes me sound like a dork, but I've read all the Hunger Games books, and all the Harry Potter books, and in those books it gets so exciting, you literally cannot wait to turn the page.  I actually skip ahead I get so excited to see what's going to happen when reading a good book.  I have never, in my life, been so excited to turn a page as the page I am turning right now.  

As I mentioned before I'm going to work with Chuck Foss at Core Financial.  I will take my series 65 exam within the month.  I've been studying and continue to do so in hopes to help people realize that money is a gift.  It is a good thing, and when used properly "mo money" does not make "mo problems."  Leslee and I will also continue to pursue our passion of helping kids through the Diaz Family Foundation.   Also, I have a broadcast agent who's working their tail off to keep me in baseball.  This is a passion of mine (I actually went to college thinking I'd broadcast baseball long before I could play it for a living).  I have no mixed emotions.  I am completely at peace.  Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I promise my twitter feed will not turn into family picture time.  I am excited to keep using it to talk baseball with y'all and continue to use it to "glorify God by aiding orphaned and disadvantaged children in Polk County, Florida, and throughout the world!!!"