Happy birthday, Derek Jeter

Derek JeterIt’s officially time to wish Derek Jeter a happy 40th birthday, and he should be in a good mood after the Yankees snapped a four-game losing streak last night.

With the team off tonight, the stars have aligned for Jeter to celebrate the big milestone in grand style. Our invite seems to have been lost in the mail, but we’d expect nothing less than a big bash to remember — not that you’ll ever squeeze the details out of him.

“I’m pretty sure some family and friends will do something,” he said yesterday, “like they do for every one of my birthdays and their birthdays.”

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that the Yankees captain has been looking forward to this day. In fact, one reason that Jeter was so thrilled with Ichiro Suzuki’s arrival a couple of years ago was that he could point over to the speedy outfielder’s locker and identify the oldest player on the team.

Jeter detests talking about his age, but he has flashed some good humor in recent weeks. At the conclusion of the series in Oakland, a Bay Area reporter tried to force in a question about the A’s pitching staff, asking Jeter how it compared to the Barry Zito/Tim Hudson/Mark Mulder rotations that his Yankees faced “earlier in the century.” Jeter tried, but couldn’t contain a laugh.

“You lost me at century,” he said.

Fortunately, that hasn’t been true for the Yankees. The bulk of Jeter’s baseball story has already been written; the final chapter started this spring when Jeter sat down and personally pored over each sentence of a surprise retirement announcement that would appear on the Facebook page of his Turn 2 Foundation.

After missing most of last season due to injuries, it was fair to have questions about how Jeter would hold up in this age 40 season, a rare age for a shortstop to still be playing his original position — or playing at all. The Yankees’ fears were calmed when Jeter seemed to be running without issue, and though he has had some lapses in this final season, Joe Girardi has stuck with Jeter at the top of the lineup. He has rewarded that faith by hitting .321 (18-for-56) with three doubles, a homer and five RBIs in his last 14 games.

“You don’t see people play until they’re 40,” Girardi said. “If they are, it’s usually in a different league. It’s pretty remarkable, the career he’s had and what he’s been able to do. I tip my cap to him.”

This also more or less marks the halfway point of Jeter’s final run (don’t call it a farewell tour, he hates that, because in his view it implies the Yankees aren’t still trying to win). 78 games in the books, 84 more to go in the regular season, and who knows about the postseason at this point? Certainly, nothing is guaranteed.

Jeter has already revealed some of his plans for the post-baseball years — he’d like to start a family, dabble in book publishing, take the summer vacation that he never could, and keep dreaming about a place in the owner’s box of a big league team. He wants to call the shots, applying some (but not all) of the tactics that he saw under George Steinbrenner’s rule.

For now, Jeter’s focus is on finishing the rest of the season on a strong note. He got a hit in his final game as a 30-something, and when the Yankees get back on the field Friday night against the Red Sox, surely he’ll expect to do the same as a 40-year-old. It’s just a number, isn’t it?

“My mindset is to treat it no differently than any other age,” you said. “That’s just how I cope with it. If you sit around and start talking about how you’re getting older, then I think mentally you cause yourself some problems. For me, I don’t think about it. … I played 159 games two years ago. My job is to be ready to play every day.”

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