In an age of sports scandals and performance-enhancing drugs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a baseball player who does justice to the spirit of the game. Fortunately, modern baseball’s greatest ambassador just so happens to be an incredible player and a nice guy. Men’s Fitness recently caught up with Derek Jeter as the Yankees’ star opened his third 24-Hour Fitness location, this one in Manhattan’s swank Soho neighborhood.
When you were a little kid did you ever dream that one day you would break the Yankees’ all-time hits record set by Lou Gehrig?
No. I always dreamed I would play for the New York Yankees, but breaking Gehrig’s record? That was never part of the equation — it’s really just icing on the cake.
As a seasoned veteran, were you still nervous as you approached the record?
Definitely. I think if you don’t get butterflies before every game it means you don’t care.
You’ve always made fitness a priority during your career. Do you notice a difference between working out now at the age of 35 as opposed to 10 years ago?
The big difference for me is that, as I get older, I find it’s a lot easier to stay in shape than it is to get back in shape. When I was younger, I would work out during the season and then in the off-season I didn’t do much. I would just show up at spring training and start working out again and it was fine. But as I get older I think it’s a lot more difficult to take that time off — so I just try to stay in shape year round.
As a pro athlete, you’re under so much pressure to perform day in and day out. Do you ever look at working out as a coping mechanism to deal with that stress?
Sometimes. I can see how people workout to feel better. For me, I don’t have much of a choice though — if I don’t stay in shape, it shows on the field.
What’s your off-season training like? What do you put an emphasis on?
Athletes have two phases: off-season and in-season. During the season you basically try to just maintain what you have and then use the off-season to actually build up. For me, I put an emphasis on core-building, agility, and flexibility. As you get, ahem, a little older you really have to pay attention to those things — but take notice, I did say a little older.
In terms of natural athleticism, which baseball players stand out in your mind as being the most gifted?
In terms of athletic ability I would say Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders—those guys played at the top level in multiple sports. People have no idea just how hard that is to do.
It must be especially difficult to perform at that level while traveling so much. When you’re on the road, how do you get that gym time into the schedule?
You just have to find the time. So many people are insanely busy nowadays and it’s easy to say, ‘ah, I’ll workout tomorrow.’ But you have to set aside a time and stick to that schedule. I like to hit the gym early in the morning. I feel better throughout the day when I get in a workout first thing in the morning. By the evening, you’re tired and it’s just too easy to say you’ll do it tomorrow.
Even the seasoned athlete needs a little motivation in the gym. What type of music do you workout to when you’re hitting the weights?
For me, it’s definitely hip-hop. I love both hip-hop and R&B, especially John Legend and Alicia Keys.
How do you unwind when you get a break from baseball?
I love watching college football and basketball. I’m a big Michigan fan. The Boss [George Steinbrenner] and I [loved] when Michigan and Ohio State play — he’s an Ohio State guy, I’m a Michigan guy.
In terms of nutrition, do you have any pre-game meals?
People are always surprised when I say this, but I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches an hour before the game. I don’t like to eat anything too heavy before I play, so PB&J is perfect.
What about post-game meals — any guilty pleasures?
Not really. I eat really well for the most part. We’re on such a weird schedule with our games and traveling that I usually eat dinner at 11 or 11:30 every night. I actually have to make sure I eat a lot because I lose so much weight during the season. I will say that I love chicken parmesan though — it’s my absolute favorite.
Is it hard to eat well on the road?
I have it down pretty well now. I’m a creature of habit, so I have my favorite restaurants that I go to and know exactly what I want. It’s not always good, I should get out and see more of the cities, but I know what I like so I stick with it. Call me boring.
The average guy will never know what it’s like to stand before a roaring crowd in Yankee Stadium. Can you put that feeling into words?
No. I really can’t. I’m trying to think how I can possibly convey that feeling. It was always my dream and when it became a reality . . . I don’t even know how to articulate it. It feels really good, I can say that much. But there simply aren’t words for something as incredible as that.
Millions of fans look up to Derek Jeter. But who does Derek Jeter look up to?
I’ve always looked up to my parents. I might be a little biased, but I think I have some pretty terrific parents. They are who I go to for advice because no matter what, I know they are the people who will be honest with me. They are incredibly hard workers and they are always positive — two things I greatly admire in anyone.