As of Tuesday morning, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is just six hits shy of reaching the magical 3,000 plateau for his illustrious career. On Monday night during New York’s 1-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians, Jeter collected career hit number 2,994 when he singled to lead off the first inning. He would leave the game after four innings with a strained right calf, and then had an MRI to assess the severity of the injury later that evening. There’s no definitive timetable on when Jeter will return, but he’ll definitely be out for a game or two this week, and perhaps even more if it tightens up and is giving him problems tomorrow morning. Regardless of whether Jeter returns on Wednesday night, sometime next week, or any other time, the bottom line is his quest towards 3,000 career hits will carry on a bit longer than otherwise. And if you’ve heard athletes talk about these types of individual statistical pursuits, you know that they typically are tremendously relieved when it’s all over and the attention can be diverted away from individual milestones and back to the collective play of the team.
Before getting injured on Monday night, Jeter made a rare radio appearance on ESPN Radio New York to talk about the pursuit of 3,000. Obviously Yankees fans would be interested in hearing if Jeter’s outlook or attitude might have been changed by the seemingly minor but still discouraging injury, but hey, he’s Derek Jeter. Radio interviews are few and far between with the future Hall of Famer. Jeter joined ESPN Radio New York to talk about how he’s trying to enjoy his quest for 3,000 career hits, whether he’d put this particular individual milestone right up there with the top achievements of his storied career, how he’d assess his individual game at this point in the season, where he feels the Yankees are as a team now that there’s just about 100 games remaining in the 2011 schedule, how formidable he feels the Red Sox will be for the remainder of the season after successfully rebounding from an atrocious start, if he sees any parallels between the scrutiny faced by the Miami Heat and the New York Yankees — two teams that most fans seems to love to hate — and how he never identified the 3,000 hit plateau as one worth continuing to play for or feeling satisfied by were he to get there.
If he’s trying to enjoy this special stretch as he approaches a monumental career milestone:
“I’m trying to. I’m trying to enjoy it. I really don’t know what that means. But it’s something that I’m proud of, I’m proud that I’m to this point, but I’ve still got a long ways to go.”
Whether he feels that this particular individual accomplishment has to rank right up there near the top of all the impressive things he’s done in his career:
“Well if I get there. I never take anything for granted. You saw that Bernie Mac movie where they took one of his hits away, and Mr. 3000 ended up with 2999, so you’re never sure until it happens. But like you said, it takes a long time; you have to be durable; you have to be consistent. One stat I don’t think most people hit is the 200-hit plateau; well you have to do that every year for 15 years in order to get to 3,000. This is my 16th year, so I’m happy. You have to be consistent obviously to have an opportunity to do it. It’s something I’m proud of. I’m proud of the fact I’m close, and I hope I can get there soon.”
On where he feels his game is at the moment with his swing and ability to produce:
“I feel pretty good right now. It’s been a year of adjustments, an offseason of adjustments and re-adjustments. And right now I feel like I’m having some good at bats and having some good swings. And we have a lot of games left; we have about 100 games left, so hopefully things can improve a lot.”
What about how the Yankees are playing as a team at this stage of the season:
“Well we had a good road trip on the west coast. We’ve played well at times, we’ve been a little inconsistent, and we’ve had a lot of injuries which happens to every team over the course of a year. But I like where we’re at right now. Yeah there’s a lot of room for improvement, but we could be in a whole lot worse shape. I think everyone here is working hard, and with some guys down other guys are going to have to step up. But I like how we’ve been playing.”
On how formidable he feels the Red Sox will be after seeing them rebound from their slow start:
“They have a great team. I thought it was funny when they started 2-10 and everyone’s talking about the Red Sox are done. It’s a long, long season. Those guys’ pitching and hitting are too good for them to struggle for an entire year. They got out of the gates slow but they’ve turned things on and they’ve been as good as any team in baseball. So we expect Boston to be right there until the end.” After being asked if he saw much of the Finals, Jeter was asked if he sees any similarities between the scrutiny the.
Heat have faced and what the Yankees face each year from so many fans that hate to see the frontrunners win:
“Oh no question, no question. They became the talk of the NBA. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em, which is very similar to our team. So that team got a lot of attention, and hey, they had a good year. Like you said before, it’s not easy to win, a lot of things have to go right. If you have a good team with good players, you’re going to have an opportunity to win, but that doesn’t mean you’re just going to go out on the court and beat every team you play.”
If ever viewed the 3,000 hit plateau as something worth sticking around for and achieving as he got closer to the historic number:
“Well first, I never looked at it as a finish line, because I think if you do that, once you get there then what? I remember after maybe I got maybe my 2,000th hit, I thought if you continue to be consistent and avoid injuries, you should be able to get to 3,000. But it’s never been a goal of mine, because I don’t sit around and set these kinds of goals. My goal is to be consistent like I’ve always told you, and I think if you do it long enough, then you have a chance to reach some of these things. But it wasn’t like I sat down one day and said ‘this is a goal I want to reach.’”
If he has taken notice of or relished in any way the criticism people have levied against him about his game being washed up:
“Well I mean, I have no problem with criticism. I have no problem. I’m my biggest critic. If I don’t perform at a level I’m comfortable with, than it bothers me. And it should bother other people. I understand that completely. But I try to forget about things that happened and you try to improve. So if people are going to have their opinions, good or bad — when I was having good seasons people had opinions — so it doesn’t really affect me too much. Like I told you before, I know what my job is, my job is to try to improve. If I have a good season, I try to improve on a good season. So that’s just the way I’ve always handled it.”