Train Hard - Stay Humble
Next time you walk away from something because you don't get it the first time (or first ten or fifty) consider this and remember that even with a well-above-average .310 batting average, he's missing most of the time.
Several Yankees players were in the batting cages at spring training when one of them wondered how many swings Derek Jeter had taken in his professional career — not only in regular major league games, but also during spring training games, All-Star Games, minor league games, off-season training and during his thousands of batting practices.
His teammates might as well have been calculating how many beers were sold at Yankee Stadium during his career, given that Jeter, who will retire after this season, is in his 20th as a major leaguer.
Baseball is driven by statistics. Before Sunday night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, Jeter had played in 2,734 games and had 3,450 regular-season hits, sixth most in history. He had also hit into 287 double plays, struck out 29 times against Pedro Martinez and never reached base on catcher’s interference.
But just swinging the bat, including practice? Even in the statistics-happy world of baseball, there is no record of that.
The conversation among his teammates piqued Jeter’s curiosity, so he agreed to help come up with a grand total for career swings.
“Good luck,” he said. “There is no way to know for sure. You could spend hours trying to calculate it and still be off by 10,000, or more.”
The task required a look at Jeter’s routines. Jeter is dedicated to his practice swings, though not fanatical. He takes time off to rest his body, usually in November and December. And there is no batting cage at his house in Florida.
“You would have a hard time finding a baseball at my house besides one that’s got writing on it,” he said. “I’ve got no cages. I don’t swing at home.”
Each January and early February, Jeter said, he goes to the Yankees’ facility in Tampa, Fla., where he typically takes 30 light swings for his first four days of workouts. That is 120 swings, multiplied by 22 Januarys and Februarys (he was drafted in June 1992), for a total of 2,640 swings. The next four days in January, he increases to roughly 50 swings a day, so that is another 4,400. Then, for about two and a half weeks through early February, he takes about 65 swings a day, or roughly 24,310.
Then he cools down to 45 swings for the last two days, adding another 1,980. That puts him at 33,330 swings over 22 years before the start of spring training.
Jeter added that he never sneaked off to the Tampa complex, a few miles from his home, to hit; no midnight trips to the cage to fix a kink in his swing.
“When you leave the stadium, you’ve got to get away, because it’s a game of failure,” he said. “I have to have other things to think about other than baseball. I don’t understand how guys go back and watch their game again and then they watch other games. I don’t understand that. For me, I have to have an outlet.”
The calculation for six weeks of spring training over 22 years is approximately 61,490 spring swings, putting the running total at 94,820. (Jeter suggested that swings in the on-deck circle and swings without a ball not be counted.)
The bulk of Jeter’s swings have come on game days. Typically, he takes about 30 in a batting cage, then 30 more during on-field batting practice. To the 2,734 games in which he had played through Saturday, add 200 games when he did not play but still took batting practice, or when he swung in Tampa while rehabilitating an injury, and that brings the total to 176,040.
“It’s peaceful when you’re feeling good,” he said about batting practice. “When that happens, most of the time it’s just a matter of getting loose. When you’re not going well, the cage is usually where you work on things.
Running total: 270,860.
All that practice has led to one of the more recognizable and repeated swings in baseball. Jeter, who bats right-handed, steps into the batter’s box with his right foot and digs in ever so slightly, as if snuffing out a cigarette butt. He brings the left foot forward and reaches out to the plate with his bat in his left hand, adjusts any padding he may have on his arm, fiddles with the brim of his helmet, then holds up his right hand behind him — part signal to the umpire to wait, part idiosyncratic routine.
With both hands gripping the bat, he takes a downward pendulum swing, then brings the bat back and above his head. He rocks slightly to and fro from the hips, swaying his shoulders and arms with the bat up high to gather his rhythm and timing. As the ball approaches, he taps his left foot once and then steps toward the pitcher, uncoiling his torso, his bat ending up behind his left shoulder as he looks out — often to right field — to see where the ball has landed.
Of course, swinging the bat is not Jeter’s only job. Over his career as a shortstop, he has fielded untold ground balls in practice and in games and made thousands more throws while playing catch. According to a similar estimate based on Jeter’s work habits, he has fielded 141,135 grounders and made 221,935 throws.
In French, the word jeter means “to throw.” “It would be better if it meant, ‘Get a hit,’ ” he said.He has plenty of those. In games, Jeter has swung at least 3,450 times — his hit total. He guesses, though, that he has taken about two swings per plate appearance, and that is almost exactly right. The website Baseball Reference reveals that Jeter has swung at 47.6 percent of the 46,618 pitches he has seen, which is 22,190 swings in regular-season games, through the end of the week.
Now the total is 293,050.
Jeter has also played 158 postseason games, with 200 hits. That is another 9,480 practice swings and about 1,299 swings in games, totaling 10,779. He is up to 303,829.
He has 29 plate appearances (13 hits) in the All-Star Game for roughly 51 swings, plus another 780 in All-Star Game batting practices, for about 831, bringing the total to 304,660. Jeter also played in 463 minor league games, so add 31,484.
Total so far: 336,144.
And with Jeter, there are always extra swings — days when he was not feeling right in spring training, or when he wanted to impress the coaching staff in the minors. Call it 5,000, fewer than one extra swing per day over his career, a conservative estimate.
That takes the total to 341,144, or 98.9 swings per hit, comprising all the hits and misses and foul balls in games, all the practice sessions in batting cages in Tampa over 22 Januarys and 22 spring trainings, all the games in Greensboro, N.C., and Columbus, Ohio, and thousands of batting practices in New York, Boston, Toronto and beyond.
“So, you’re saying it’s not that easy to get a hit?” he said when told the grand total. “Thank you. I appreciate that.”
By the end of the season, Jeter will have taken approximately 341,960 swings.
Assuming each swing takes a second from the time he lifts up his foot that equals 5,685.7 minutes, or 94.8 hours — nearly four days of nonstop swinging.
“I’m a guy who believes players swing too much,” said Joe Maddon, the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays. “But obviously it has worked for him. He has honed that swing that has become so familiar to all of us, to the point that it never changes. He has incredible muscle memory. I’ve never seen him in a slump that lasted very long, because he is able to get back to that swing.”