Dear Derek...

August 12, 2001

The locker next to Derek Jeter's in the New York Yankees' home
clubhouse throbs with his unopened mail. It piles up in feet.
Spills onto the carpet. Gives off odd smells. Aches to be opened.
So I asked him if I could open it all. He said yes. Here's what I
found in 261 pieces of mail.

Despite pleas of URGENT! and IMPORTANT! and TAPE THIS ASAP TO
DEREK JETER'S LOCKER! on the envelopes, most of the letter
writers wanted only his autograph--141 to be exact, including 52
on Jeter photos they sent, 13 on baseballs they sent, the rest on
all kinds of stuff, like a book report and a baby photo. To aid
their cause, eight people even sent pens. One, seeking an
autograph for her sailor husband, wrote, "Think of the publicity
you'll get!" Tonight on the 11 o'clock news: Derek Jeter signs
autograph for sailor!

Jeter is one of the rare athletes who tries to respond to all his
mail himself, but he admitted, "I'm a couple road trips behind."
It's no wonder. Reading his mail for one day is more depressing
than watching the NASDAQ Composite. Most requests came from
people who "wouldn't normally ask for something like this,"
except that they were hearing-impaired; had lost a grandfather, a
best friend or their appendix; had a brain tumor, an aneurysm, a
breach baby, essential tremor disease, breast cancer, colitis,
cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or colon cancer; had gone through a
rough divorce or fallen off a bike; were abandoned or unloved.

One hopelessly doomed woman needed an autograph because she had
"lost four close friends, a father-in-law and almost an alcoholic
father, had an apartment fire, had a miscarriage of twins and has
to take care of my loser husband." Lady, you don't need an
autograph; you need a telethon.

There were three out-and-out come-ons from women, including one
jaw-dropper that would make a dead man straighten his tie. She
included her photo and her phone number "as a long shot that you
might call me." Jeter wasn't going to. "I never date anybody that
way," he said. (However, I am selling the number on eBay,
beginning on Tuesday.)

People really needed Jeter at their movie premieres (3), auctions
(6), Playboy Mansion party, Eagle Scout ceremony, third-grade
play, backyard BBQ ("and bring all your teammates"), boat ride
and birthday parties (3, including one in Tampa from a boy who
wrote, "Make sure you bring your swimsuit").

There were four pitches from real estate agents--including a man
who was standing by "for all your real estate needs in the
greater Akron area"--and two people begging for money. One guy
wanted $20,000. "That's only .002 of your income," he wrote, for
"a small addition on our house...a car loan and...upgrading
the musical equipment I have." Well, as long as it's an
emergency!

Too bad Jeter doesn't have any money. Otherwise, why would
MasterCard have sent a letter that read, "We regret to inform you
that we are unable to approve your application at this time"?
Jeter's average salary is only $19 million a year. Perhaps he
should try for a debit card. Luckily, there was also a notice
from an insurance group informing him that he might be "eligible
for worker's comp benefits under Florida statute 440." Not only
that, but he was entitled to "29 cents a mile" for doctor's
visits.

It would mean "so, so much" if Jeter would accept people's gifts
of bubble gum, poems (2), cookies (by the 100s), audio letters
(2), shoes (wrong size), needlepoint, novels (2), rambling
seven-page essays about Pokemon (6, all from the same woman) and
a dead woman's favorite Yankees T-shirt and shorts, which, after
three weeks in a plastic bag, stank to wherever she is now. "It
was her final wish," wrote her daughter. "I'm hoping they bring
you luck."

Nearly every request came with the phrase, "It'll only take a
minute," except for the one from the kid who wanted Jeter to send
a lot of baseball tips and the one from the mother who instructed
Jeter to "write a brief, encouraging letter" to her Little
Leaguer. What, no song?

Only nine people out of the 261 wanted nothing except to tell
Jeter how much they loved watching him play ball. There was even
a small, handwritten thank-you note--from David Letterman for
appearing on his show.

Jeter had a game to play, so I asked him what he wanted me to do
with it all. "Just stick it back in that locker," he said. I
trucked the letters back in, only to find something awful sitting
there.

The new mail.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

One guy wanted $20,000 from Jeter. "That's only .002 of your
income," he wrote.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)