Let’s face it, when a professional athlete plays twenty years with a team—any team—it doesn’t matter who he is playing for. You’re a fan. Why? Because it is likely the end of a sports era. One in which both the player and owner commit to something more than a quick fix. Rarely do we see this anymore.
“The Captain,” Derek Jeter, was such a player. His career with the storied Yankees commanded that kind of RE2PECT (a brilliant slogan from a Nike ad campaign that capitalized off of his final season).
Below is one of my favorite commercials of all-time, honoring the fourteen-time All-Star and five-time World Series winner. The video wisely begins with the late, great Bob Sheppard’s voice introducing Jeter to the plate.
“Now batting for the Yankees, Numbah 2, Derek Jeter, Numbah 2.”
When Sheppard turned 99, he was no longer able to perform as the Yankees’ P.A. announcer. Jeter asked if Sheppard would record his voice for him, so that it could continue to be played each and every time he stepped up to the plate. Sheppard called it one of the greatest compliments he had ever received.
During our recent family vacation I was able to read two books on Jeter, The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter by Ian O’Connor and Jeter Unfiltered by Derek Jeter with Anthony Bozza. They were recent gifts and this Yankees fan enjoyed them immensely.
A common theme runs through this legendary career. In spite of the many obstacles along the way, Derek Jeter had remained focused. Always. As early as the eighth grade he was telling his parents, classmates, teachers, and anyone else who would listen that he intended to play shortstop for the New York Yankees.
By the way, Google “shortstop” and a picture of Derek Jeter appears. Really! Click here to see the search result.
THE FOUR Ds1
A championship athlete has to bring many areas of his life under control to succeed and the same holds true for the Christian.
This is why the Apostle Paul often used sports in his letters. It served as a way to illustrate to his readers the sacrifice that is necessary in the Christian life.
With that in mind, below are four Ds, four attitudes gleaned from the pages of these books that I believe will have a similar application for us.
1. Be determined.
There is an old saying, “Aim at nothing and you are bound to hit it.” Jeter’s aim was on playing for the world’s most famous ball team. His goals all pointed in that same direction. His daily planner proved as much. And he would deny liberties that might take him off course.
Jeter made an impression on Don Mattingly, just as he had made one on Whitey Ford. The shortstop and the veteran first baseman were finishing up a workout on a back field, all alone, the seats empty, not a player or team official in sight.
A spent Jeter had started walking off the field—when a jogging Mattingly came up behind him and in passing said, “Let’s run it in. You never know who’s watching.”
Jeter caught up to Mattingly and the two raced to the clubhouse side by side. An elder’s wisdom had hit home. From then on Jeter would do everything—even head to the showers—at full speed.
The believer in Christ can learn from this athlete’s determination. 1 Timothy 4:7a reads, “have nothing to do with,” meaning to strongly reject that which deceives and distracts us from living for God’s glory. Paul was appealing to Timothy to stand strong. Half-heartedness wasn’t enough. He would require more. He would need to be determined to be serious; and in Timothy’s case, to not to occupy his time with godless and empty teachings.
What should and shouldn’t we be doing? Do we have a constant awareness of the presence of God in our lives? It’s time to set our minds on the things of the Spirit (read Rom 8:5-6). We need to be determined to give it our all.
2. Be disciplined.
It’s no secret that any advancement in athletics will require self-discipline. Take a look at those who are successful in physical challenges and you will see a pattern of training, behind the scenes, yielding fruit. Jeter’s story echoes much the same:
He demanded hard work, accountability, and a willingness to place team ahead of self… throwing himself into the workouts… Jeter’s work ethic was off the charts…
In 1 Timothy 4:7b-8, Paul writes “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things.”
Dr. Steven Lawson in a powerful 2014 Shepherds’ Conference message states that these words are a call for Christians to get into shape spiritually. To get into God’s gym by means of devotions, studying the Word, reading, and accountability.
3. Be diligent.
I had shared earlier that Jeter always aimed at something. He had a goal in mind and pursued it painstakingly through the years. His persistence paid off in many championship leaps and bounds.
Again, this is a terrific spiritual illustration. What is the Christian diligently pursuing? 1 Timothy 4:10 points to the purpose for those who are alive in Christ, “It is for this we labor and strive… we have fixed our hope on the living God.”
Hope here is not defined as some sort of unsure optimism. In Pennsylvania Dutch this would be expressed by the words, “I hope it gets.” (I always ask, “gets what?!?”)
Instead, the hope of Christ conveys certainty and security in Him and His promises. Without Christ, one has no hope (1 Thess 4:13). But with Him, hope gives us the perseverance (diligence) to stay-the-course (see Rom 8:24-25).
4. Be devoted.
Lastly, I was reminded of Jeter’s daily devotion to the success of the New York Yankees—beyond the world of self-promotion and self-righteousness. He played the game the right way because for him there could be no other way. Surrounded by “steroid-fueled frauds” Jeter endured. There was a passion behind the pinstripes that ultimately made the number 2 number 1.
[H]e felt a greater connection with [Lou] Gehrig than with the other Yankee titans of the past. Quiet and dignified, the Iron Horse was the anti-Ruth, just as he would have been the anti-A-Rod.
This should be the mark of every follower of Christ. Dominated by a devotion to God. Again, verse 10 of 1 Timothy 4, having a fixed hope. One that is God-centered, God-focused, and God-honoring. Where nothing will be able to pull him or her completely off course. They are locked in.
These four Ds: to be determined, disciplined, diligent, and devoted, were consistently and habitually found throughout the baseball career of Derek Jeter. But in the end, it’s just a game. Something that will pass away.
What’s of far greater significance is our spiritual growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ our Savior. May we use these four Ds not just for our own good, but ultimately for His glory.