By Eric Neel
Page 2

"He's a tremendous, tremendous player. I couldn't even tell you what it is. All I can say is, he finds ways to get it done."

    --Yanks GM Brian Cashman talking about Derek Jeter in the Hartford Courant on Monday

You know about Captain Intangible between lines. You know, like the Big Shortstop In The Sky, Derek's baseball ways passeth beyond understanding.

But did you know it's not just a baseball thing?

Ask around, the guy's gifts know no bounds.

"He brings his car in here and the whole place changes," says Dan, the guy who works the gate at Derek's Manhattan condo. "You have to see it every day to know what I mean. It's not the smell or the shine, though those are great, of course, it's the way it makes the other cars around it better. Look at that 4Runner over there ... that thing would be nothing in a lot in Milwaukee or Pittsburgh, but here, here it has an air about it."

"He refuses to lose," Patty at the dry cleaners says. "One of those snooty Upper West Side ladies, the kind with a Pekinese in one hand and a Virginia Slims in the other, will come in here with a stack of silk blouses, and she and Derek will reach the door at the same time. And you know, a lot of guys would smile and hold the door for her, but not Jeter. He's a winner. He sneaks right by her and slaps a couple of his Armani jackets down on the counter before her little pooch can yap. He's not exactly fast, and his lateral range isn't as good as some guys I see in here, but he finds holes, you know what I'm saying? And at the end of the day, the man always manages to have clean coats, shirts, and ties."

And it's the same way when he's at the clubs: "There are guys with better moves, I guess," says Jade from Long Island. "But he just knows how to dance."

And in a limo: "The way he slides into the back seat, quick but never hurried? The kid's a natural," says driver Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson.

And at the dentist's office: "What gets you is the way he carries himself," says April the hygienist. "Everything about him, from the rinse to the spit, says 'commitment to winning.'"

For most of us, life creeps along at its petty pace.

For Derek, every day is game day.

"He just always comes up big on the big Sundays," says Rev. Mike. "I'm doing the whole fire and brimstone thing a couple weeks back, and other guys, good players in the game of life to be sure, are folding like origami swans. But Derek, I don't know ... it's like he's rising up to meet the challenge. He's clutch. I haven't seen his kind of grace under pressure since ... well, you know."

* * * * *

Late returns
Notes from last night's games ...

... Most home-run highlights don't do much for me. I'd just as soon see a rope double or a wacky, spinning ducksnort. But let me just say the ball Vlad Guerrero hit off Joel Pineiro and deep into the Seattle night was a thing of terrifying beauty; the kind of thing phrases like "bless my soul" were created for.

... Speaking of which, do we even have a word for what Piazza did to that C.J. Nitkowski pitch in the seventh?

... Dear Rocket, I said some things, some things about maybe the time had finally come, some things that were clearly rash and naive, some things I regret. Please forgive me. Sincerely, Eric.

... Memo to the National League: Jose Lima's not going to be in the pen for long.

... Billy Wagner's ball was playing tricks on Pirate hitters. Mean, doorbell ditchum, whoopee cushion, sort of stuff, designed to humiliate. Three strikeouts and one save later, the Phils are feeling good about their new closer and the Pirates hittters, like they didn't already have enough weighing them down, are feeling like a bully just pantsed 'em in the locker room.

* * * * *

NOTES FROM ERIC'S SCORECARD
GOOD IDEA
This Kaz Matsui guy shows some promise.
HALL OF FAMER?
This week's candidate is Fred McGriff's baseball doppelganger, Rafael Palmeiro. My hope is that Cubs fans, still wondering what the hell happened, still telling themselves that 13 years of Mark Grace was just dandy, will still cast votes.

  • What's your call? Vote here
  • A BETTER IDEA
    Word out of Baltimore the other day is that Orioles owner Peter Angelos stopped by the Yard before the team's opener with Boston to meet manager Lee Mazzilli. For the first time. "It was special, because I really want him to be part of the team," Mazzilli said afterward. (I'm not making this up.)
    BUY UP
    Stock in Morgan Ensberg, the Astros third baseman. Morgan's going to do a lot of damage in Minute Maid Park this year. He's also going to make an appearance before too long in our GET THIS MAN A NICKNAME game, so put your thinking caps on.

    SELL OFF
    Your shares in the Royals to win the AL Central. Every year there's at least one pick everyone makes because they're goofy on the gas of an improbably good showing the year before. This is that pick. Don't be goofy.

    A BAD IDEA
    Kapow

    Jimy Williams goes to the mound in the 8th inning on Monday. He's got Roy Oswalt on the hill, Barry Bonds coming up, two Giants on base and a 3-1 lead. Bonds had already ripped two doubles and drawn a walk off Oswalt in the game. He also knows he needs Oswalt's psyche sound and true for 30-odd starts this year. So, knowing that, you take the ball from young Roy, pat him on the back, say job well done, and give Octavio Dotel a ring.

    Instead, Jimy lets Oswalt pitch to Bonds and sure enough, it's a 3-run, game-tying, Roy's-crying, our-hopes-are-dying home run. Some shots are just shots. Some, like this one, come with "Batman" cartoon sound effects: "Ka-Pow!" and "Ouch."

    BRIAN GILES ALL-STAR
    A spot reserved for unheralded greatness

    Ray Durham

    Ray Durham, 2B, San Francisco Giants

    I could tell you about how he's hitting .500 through three games, but you know, small sample sizes and all that ... so, let's say this instead: He hits some doubles, he hits some triples, he pokes a few over the wall, he hits from both sides of the plate, he steals some bases, he picks the ball up off the dirt, he busts his tail, and he keeps his mouth shut. He's what the old-time guys playing checkers at the general store used to call a Gamer.

    MY DODGER BLUES
    Yes, I'm a Dodgers fan. For Milton Bradley, let's go with Steve Earle's "I Feel Alright."

    Now some of you would live through me
    Lock me up and throw away the key
    Or just find a place to hide away
    Hope that I'll just go away
    I feel alright I feel alright tonight

    There are some doubters out there, but I'm pretty sure the Dodgers won this Bradley trade going away, and I think the last time I felt that way was when they got Jimmy Wynn for Claude Osteen in 1973. So, you know, I feel alright right now.

    VITAL YANKEE-HATER NUMBER
    Mike Mussina

    11.00. That's Mike Mussina's ERA after two starts. Here's the really exciting part for those of you with a Caplesque loathing for all things pinstriped: both starts were against Tampa Bay. So, either the Devil Rays are very good, which is just crazy talk, or ...

    NICE CALL
    Channel 1: Rangers broadcasters, commenting on Chan Ho Park's loss Tuesday night: "Chan Ho was outstanding last night. You take away three batters and he wins 1-0." True enough, and it's also true that if you take away Kevin Mitchell, Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson, Bill Buckner's wearing a World Series ring right now.

    Channel 2: White Sox play-by-play man Hawk Harrelson on Wednesday, discussing, uh, physics: "Of course, a breaking ball in Kansas City is going to break considerably harder than a breaking ball in Arizona." It's hard to say whether this is a riff on perceptions being different when you're in spring training as opposed to when the games are for real, a little Husserlian phenomenology bit, let's say, or whether instead it's an impromptu lecture on the effect of wind, barometric pressure, and good bar-b-q sauce on curve balls. Either way, it's food for thought, and proof that the game isn't just a game, it's a chance to think hard.

    LUNCHBOX IT IS
    With 13,763 votes cast, Garret Anderson's unofficial new nickname is "Lunchbox" Anderson. I'll write a letter to the Angels PR people. You guys start using it in casual conversation.

    I'M THINKING SKINNY
    Last week's nickname call was for Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado. Thanks again to all of you who wrote in. Some of the top contenders are in the poll to the right. Cast your vote.

    AND NOW LET'S GET THIS MAN A NICKNAME
    Todd Helton. With some mullettish locks dangling beneath the helmet these days, he's a budding member of the MLB All-Hair Team, the NL branch of which is currently captained by his teammate Royce Clayton. Helton deserves your love and creativity. Give it up.

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  • YOU THINK YOU KNOW EVERYTHING
    And then the Tigers go and take three from Toronto.
    FEARLESS PREDICTIONS
    NL East: Philly
    NL Central: Houston
    NL West: San Diego
    NL Wild Card: Chicago

    AL East: New York
    AL Central: Minnesota
    AL West: Oakland
    AL Wild Card: Toronto

    NL Champ: Philly
    AL Champ: Oakland

    It's a Connie Mack vs. Charlie Finley Series, and Oakland finally gets it done.

    IN THE BATTER'S BOX
    Alfonso Soriano

    Alfonso Soriano is like a Weeble on the juice in there. Everything's wiggling: his bat, his butt, his knees, and his teeth working the gum. The guy's numbers are impressive, the way he gets 'em -- somehow quieting this riot of a body down as it comes through the zone -- is freakin' miraculous.


    Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2. His "On Baseball" column will appear weekly during the baseball season.




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