Derek Jeter on 1 Year with the Marlins & His Plans to Continue to Transform the Team

By Isabel Gonzalez Whitaker | October 29, 2018 | People Feature

Derek Jeter arrived in Miami on a mission: to challenge himself in a new role while turning around a losing team and reviving a sport on the decline. A year later, it's all starting to come together.

derek-jeter-2.jpgSuede bomber jacket, $798, by Polo Ralph Lauren, and New Ace leather sneakers, $580, by Gucci, both at Saks Fifth Avenue, Dadeland Mall; twotone jumper, $540, by Neil Barrett, and slim jeans, $650, by Balmain, both at The Webster, Bal Harbour Shops.

It's been one year since legendary New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter arrived in Miami as co-owner and CEO of the Marlins, and things around the office are finally starting to reflect the presence of the new dad and five-time World Series champ. Gone is the industrial-size dispenser of hand sanitizer that was stationed next to his desk, a holdover from the previous regime. Behind him now sits a framed collage of colorful baby footprints, presumably of 1-year-old daughter Bella Raine’s feet, and reflective of Jeter’s commitment to family, whether it’s the one he’s building with model Hannah Davis, who sources close to Jeter have confirmed to Ocean Drive is pregnant with their second child, or the family he grew up with. “We are all very close,” Jeter says. “I still bounce every idea off my parents because I know they’re going to be honest with me.”

What does remain from previous leadership in the second-floor office is an oversize fish tank that takes up three-fourths of a partition wall. With floor-to-ceiling windows, sand-white carpet and blue light reflected through the tank, the impression in this very Miami C-suite is the feeling of being inside a fishbowl, which is exactly what Jeter’s life has been like since he became a professional athlete two decades ago. As captain and shortstop for the most storied franchise in American sports, Jeter’s constant companion was the spotlight: “We were in the playoffs every single year, so even if [people] weren’t baseball fans, [they] were watching, especially the World Series because it’s an event.”

After his retirement in 2014, Jeter first tested corporate waters that same year with the launch of sports media website The Players’ Tribune, which is still open for business and, not for nothing, gets great exclusives, like Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement from the NBA in poem form in 2015. (“It’s amazing what people are willing to share when they trust who they’re talking to,” Jeter says.) Now with the Marlins, Jeter has to contemplate organizational issues, like trading high-profile players, and social issues, like athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, of which he offers this opinion: “I think people have lost sight of why [Colin Kaepernick] was taking a knee. It’s turned into [a discussion about] the act of taking a knee as opposed to why you’re doing something. And I wish that wasn’t the case.”

At the top of Jeter’s priorities, of course, is transforming the Marlins into a juggernaut for Miami and a can’t-miss destination. He’s doing this through a revamp of Marlins Park to debut the 2019 season, including a redesign of the exclusive Dex Diamond Club, which will be updated with chic furniture, communal gathering spaces, chef pop-ups and a live DJ as it shifts from a traditional dining experience to something more clublike. For inspiration, perhaps the places where Jeter likes to dine in his new city yield hints—Komodo on Brickell and KYU in Wynwood. As for goals for the organization, he says: “I didn’t get into this to lose.”

derek-jeter.jpgTwo-piece wool suit, $2,675, at Dolce & Gabbana, Bal Harbour Shops; solid buttondown shirt, $245, by Armani Collezioni at Saks Fifth Avenue, Dadeland Mall; shoes, Jeter’s own.

Why do you think you were given a hard time for making changes to the roster this season?
DEREK JETER: There’s a complicated history here with the fan base. [The Marlins] won a championship in ’97; they dismantled the team. They won in 2003; they dismantled the team. They built a new park; they dismantled the team. We’re going to make changes that are at times uncomfortable and unpopular, but we’re making changes to something that wasn’t working.

How does it feel to lose games through this transition? How is it different from losing on the field?
DJ: In some sense, it’s much more frustrating than as a player, where you get a hit or you don’t; you make a play or you don’t. Here, you have to look to the future and make decisions not only on that particular day, but for the future of the organization. So you have to have a lot of patience. As a player, you have to have a short memory because you have to learn to deal with failure. But also as a player, you can affect an outcome of a game. In the position I’m in, you can’t because you’re just watching.

Is there an equivalent to athletic training in terms of leadership skills?
DJ: I think you can learn. You take bits and pieces from people you have been fortunate enough to be led by.

Like George Steinbrenner?
DJ: No question. He, in my mind, is one of the greatest owners in all of sports. He is the epitome of preaching accountability. Throughout my entire career, I felt as though every single game I was playing was to keep my job, and that’s how everyone should feel. He was very, very passionate about winning. That’s what came first and foremost for him. We had a lot of similarities. That’s why we got along so well.

What’s a typical day for you?
DJ: I’m here from 8 in the morning until the end of the day. And on game nights, I’ll run home to visit with Bella, then back here until 10:30pm.

What are your impressions of Miami?
DJ: I love the diversity in Miami.

derek-jeter-3.jpgSuede bomber jacket, $798, by Polo Ralph Lauren, and New Ace leather sneakers, $580, by Gucci, both at Saks Fifth Avenue, Dadeland Mall; twotone jumper, $540, by Neil Barrett, and slim jeans, $650, by Balmain, both at The Webster, Bal Harbour Shops.

Is that what influenced you to institute Spanish classes for the front office?
DJ: To me, it’s important that not only our players who come from Latin America learn to speak English, but that our American players learn to speak Spanish. So if that’s the case, we also need to learn Spanish in the front office. Furthermore, we’re building an academy in the Dominican Republic for our Dominican players.

The commitment to the Latino players feels social equity-driven.
DJ: It’s an idea I’ve had for a long time. I always felt as though people expect Latin players who come here to answer questions in English, which is unfair in my mind. People don’t realize how difficult it is to come from a foreign country and just get dropped in the United States and be expected to compete at the highest level and, at the same time, communicate at that level. That’s not easy.

Did your upbringing in an interracial family instill in you an awareness of the experience of minorities?
DJ: No question. I was always taught to connect with everyone. You should have friends from different backgrounds and nationalities. It’s not like you had to go out and necessarily have five black friends, five white friends, five Hispanic friends. You surround yourself with good.

You want to win rings, but how important is it that this team also wins over Miami?
DJ: We want this to be Miami’s team. Sports has a great way of doing that: Anytime you win, you see all the rallying around that particular team. I don’t think this community has the trust for this organization. I understand that. And like I said, I can’t expect everyone to trust me if they don’t know me.

How are you revamping the ballpark experience?
DJ: We have to capture the energy and diversity of Miami inside this ballpark. With baseball, part of the plan has always been [to position] the stadium as an entertainment venue. A lot of people come to a game and don’t know who won or lost. Some of them don’t even know who we’re playing. But they know if they had a good time.

If you weren’t doing this now, what would you be doing?
DJ: I don’t think like that. I set my mind on doing what I want to do, and as long as I work hard, that’s what’s going to happen. Since I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a shortstop for the New York Yankees. Nothing ever creeped in my head besides that. And then I put my mind into ownership, turning this organization around and making it something Miami’s proud of. You have to have that level of tunnel vision. So that’s what’s going to happen.

Categories: People Feature

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