Stroke of luck made Jeter a Yankee

Derek Jeter used Woody Allen's film "Match Point" -- starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johansson -- as a metaphor for how he ended up a Bronx Bomber. Getty Images, AP Photo

Entire forests will be felled over the next six months to chronicle Derek Jeter's final season, and a lot of the same angles are bound to be written over and over again.

But one angle I have rarely seen explored in regards to Jeter is the role luck played in the unfolding of his amazing career.

This is not meant to denigrate Jeter’s accomplishments: Five World Series rings; 3,316 hits, more than any player in Yankees history, amazing enough when you think about the hitters this franchise has featured, and more than all but nine in the history of baseball; 13 All-Star games; five Gold Gloves; five Silver Slugger awards; an AL Rookie of the Year and three near-misses for AL MVP, one of which (2006), should have been his.

Then, there are the unforgettable moments that are quintessentially Jeter. The flip play. The leadoff home run against Bobby Jones in Game 4 that snatched back the 2000 World Series from the Mets. The home run as the clock struck midnight against the Diamondbacks a year later that earned him the sobriquet "Mr. November." The headlong dive into the stands against the Red Sox in 2004. The home run off David Price to put an exclamation point on his chase of 3,000 hits.

Still, would all, or any, of those moments be remembered -- or even have happened -- if one of the five teams that selected ahead of the Yankees in the 1992 amateur draft had taken Derek Jeter first?

This is an especially relevant question as the Yankees prepare to open their season Tuesday night against the Houston Astros, who had the first pick that year.

We all know what happened: The Astros took Phil Nevin. Four other teams -- the Indians, Expos, Orioles and Reds -- bypassed the spindly shortstop from Central High in Kalamazoo, Mich.

And Derek Jeter went on to become one of the greatest Yankees of all time and one of the most recognizable celebrities in all of the world.

Near the end of spring training, I asked Jeter if he had ever stopped to think about how his career might have gone if he had been drafted by any team but the Yankees.

“Not really," he said. “You know me. I’m not one for looking back. I always look forward."

But then, perhaps in the more self-reflective mode he said he would adopt heading into his last season, Jeter began to expand on the thought.

“I never thought I would be a Yankee," he said. “I just figured the Astros would take me, or someone else. But no, I haven’t thought about what would have happened if I played somewhere else."

Jeter then did a curious thing, something very much out of character for this most guarded of celebrities.

He asked me if I had ever seen the movie “Match Point." Luckily, I had. It's a Woody Allen movie made in 2005 about an opportunistic former tennis pro who makes a mess of his life with an extramarital affair and winds up committing murder, but he gets away with it through a fortuitous and unlikely series of events.

Jeter referred me to one of the last scenes in the film, when the main character, in an effort to dispose of the evidence, tries to throw his victim’s wedding ring into a river. Unbeknownst to him, the ring hits a fence railing and bounces back, coming to rest on the sidewalk. Later, it is found in the possession of another man arrested for a different crime, and it is used as evidence to convict him of the murder committed by the main character.

Jeter said he saw a parallel in that turn of fictional events with the way his own career has gone.

“It’s just the way I bounced, you know what I mean?" he said.

That acknowledgment by Jeter of the role of luck in his career is no doubt evidence that Jeter has been thinking about things in a way he hadn’t before in his 19 seasons as a Yankee.

Certainly, he would have been the same player with the Houston Astros. But he probably would not have been Derek Jeter. More like a better Craig Biggio, who made no one's list of the 100 greatest leaders in the world, as Jeter did last week. (He came in 11th, not far behind the likes of Pope Francis, Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.)

Nor would the Yankees have been the same without him. Twenty-two years after that fateful amateur draft, it’s tough to imagine one without the other.

As he heads into this final season, Jeter says he has no idea what lies in store for him, either on the field or off. He was the recipient of standing ovations at all the visiting parks he played in this spring, but as he pointed out, Florida ballparks in March are generally packed with Yankees fans.

He knows that he will likely be honored in every city the Yankees visit this season, as his friend Mariano Rivera was last year, and he is prepared for the onslaught of out-of-town media that will crowd his locker before every game.

He says it will not affect him. “It’ll be like five minutes before one game every road trip," he said. “And a couple of minutes at my locker. I generally get a lot of media, anyway."

He acknowledged that the tone of the questions will likely be different this year, more centered around greatest moments, greatest memories, greatest regrets, etc., and probably less about his current on-field performance.

“That might be a good thing, huh?" he said jokingly. Jeter struggled at the plate throughout spring training and finished with a .137 batting average.

But he also acknowledged a different feeling this spring. “Every year, all of us can’t wait for it to end," he said. “This year was the first time I enjoyed it every day. I wasn’t looking forward to leaving."

Nor will he be looking forward to the end of the season, even if it happens after Game 7 of another World Series. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Jeter taking the final weekend of the season off, as Mo did after his emotional farewell at Yankee Stadium.

But in typical Jeter fashion, he refuses to address the end of his final season, only the beginning.

“It hasn’t really set in," he said. “It’s odd to think that I won’t be back. This year will be a little different; it will probably be a little more different next year when spring training starts. But right now, I’m not thinking about that. I’m just looking forward to getting to Houston.”

Still, somewhere deep in the mind of Derek Jeter lurks the memory of a film that holds special significance for him.

The way the ring bounced for Jeter led him to five championship rings and the kind of life few athletes can even imagine.

Of all the things there are to admire about him, the awareness of that reality is just one more.