Monday, July 16, 2007

Leading Man - Player Magazine 2004

CALL IT A CRIME OF PASSION. KRISTIE LEE WILCOX WAS LOOKING for a date. Not just any date,but one with the hottest hunk in baseball:Derek Jeter. Her not-so-subtle plan included a mad dash across the infield of the House That Ruth Built on Opening Day 2003. As throngs of baseball fans recall,Wilcox did in fact make her love connection. Thanks to a blinding burst of speed,she eluded stadium officials and handed Derek Jeter her name and number.
And she got her date ... in court.

"It was spontaneous ..."she told Hollywood Five-O. "It was like two innings [into play], and I told my friend, 'I'm gonna give Derek Jeter my phone number.'So I did." After getting a standing ovation from 56,000 fans, she was snagged by security and ended up spending the night in a Bronx jail. Unfortunately for Wilcox, her case wasn't heard by Kim Basinger because the Academy Award-winning actress would have dismissed the charges.

"He's a hunk,"Basinger told Sports Illustrated. "Women like guys who have a big presence but sort of play it down. It's very appealing."

The women, the money,the fame,and the adoration of the world's most demanding sports fans, Derek Jeter has it all. And then some. One day his life will be a movie and it will begin with a clip of the great Joe DiMaggio being interviewed by Keith Olbermann on Fox Sports.

"Legend has it that at age 5, Derek told everyone he would someday be the Yankees'starting shortstop. They laughed then. They're cheering now," said the Yankee Clipper.

And it's those cheers that finally convinced Jeter that he had hit the big time. In his autobiography, The Life You Imagine, he recounts his first trip down the legendary Canyon of Heroes. It was 1996, and the Bronx Bombers had just won the World Series by knocking off the Atlanta Braves. Jeter and teammate Jim Leyritz caught a subway to Lower Manhattan for the start of the parade. "It was kind of scary," Jeter writes, "because the subway was packed with so many fans that I wasn't sure if we were going to get off."

The duo finally did manage to escape and were able to catch up with the rest of the team. As they paraded down Broadway, following the route taken by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Thurman Munson, and Reggie Jackson, tons of ticker tape rained down from the sky. On one of the Yankee floats, however, it was a much different story.

"So many young ladies held up signs asking me to marry them that it turned out to be a joke with my teammates," Jeter writes. "It got embarrassing because my teammates teased me relentlessly."

Back in those days, George Steinbrenner and Co. paid Jeter a paltry $130,000, a bottom-of-the-basement figure that could best be described as the league minimum. His 2003 compensation package? Over $15 million,a figure that no doubt takes into consideration a career batting average of .317 (fifth highest in Yankee history) and a record 101 postseason hits. Throw in four World Series rings, and is it any wonder the Yankees re-signed Jeter through 2010?
But Jeter is more than just a clutch player. The sexy shortstop is an unparalleled branding opportunity, one that savvy marketers such as Visa, Nike, Fila, and Gatorade have tapped into to promote their goods and services. All of this translates into a lifestyle that is almost unimaginable. When Jeter goes for a night on the town looking to use that famous Visa he now endorses, one of his favorite hangouts is Manhattan's China Club.

According to manager Tim Gleason, Jeter, who is polite and accommodating, gets all-star treatment.

"Derek Jeter is not waiting outside in line to get in," Gleason says."We usually know ahead of time when Derek's coming in, and we try to help him have a good time."

When Jeter arrives, the paparazzi cameras flash,the girls scream,the guys try to get him to sign a ball, a hat, or anything else they can find. It's all about catching a glimpse of the star. Once in the door,Jeter is usually whisked off to a VIP area overlooking the rest of the club.

"When he comes in people definitely notice and there's always a buzz,"says Gleason."You can tell who is a regular here because they don't get as excited as the tourist types."

Gleason adds that Jeter is not a heavy drinker. Nor is he as boisterous as, say, former Yankee teammate David Wells, who was notorious for attracting good and bad press.

"Some celebrities draw attention to themselves," Gleason says."Derek's not like that."
Whenever Jeter hits the town, he always attracts, well, attractive people - particularly women.
"Derek is definitely surrounded by beautiful people," Gleason says."You might think he always comes from a model shoot. It's amazing."

Spring training offers an endless string of anecdotes; most revolve around the opposite sex. According to an anonymous staffer at the Radisson Bay Harbor in Tampa, "Things get pretty nuts around here when the Yankees are in town, but it's really Jeter that everyone, especially the girls, are after. They'll do almost anything to see Jeter."

"They'll wait forever. They'll scream.We've even had women who've tried to figure out what room he is in and then climbed the outside of the building to his balcony."

In conclusion? "It's pretty nuts."

Some of the women whose phone numbers grace the pages of Jeter's little black book include singer Mariah Carey, actress Jordana Brewster, MTV VJ Venessa Minnillo, and not one, but two Miss Universes, 2000 winner Lara Dutta and 2001's Denise Quinones. Most recently Jeter was seen at a Florida nightclub dancing with the famed tennis beauty Anna Kournikova. Both insist they're "just friends."

What makes Jeter so appealing is that he fills so many niches. He plays for the most storied and controversial baseball team on the world's biggest stage,and he does it with grace, style,and most of all,championships. His looks are impeccable, with his boyish face, bright smile, and stellar confidence neatly packaged in his slender 6'5"frame.

Former teammate Chili Davis may have said it best when he told Sports Illustrated, "Hanging out with him sucks because women flock to him. Let's see. He's been on the cover of GQ, is rich, famous, hits for average and power,and is a helluva nice guy."

Now that's a player.
Derek Jeter is an interesting person to meet. He knows he is Derek Jeter and what that means to the rest of us mere mortals. When I met him, Jeter was with Joe Torre, Roger Clemens and Tino Martinez at an event in Las Vegas. All four men were nice, polite even signing a piece of paper for my two sons who, like their dad, are raving mad Yankee fans. Of course, since then, my sons have lost the piece of paper, but that's another long story. I enjoyed the few minutes I spent with the four Yankee legends and eventually that meeting led to this story.

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