Growing Old With Derek Jeter

The cover of the June 26th issue of the New York Times Magazine featured a candle that looked just like Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter, holding a bat as if waiting for the next pitch from, perhaps, a candle that looked like Tim Wakefield.  The Jeter candle was lit, and navy blue rivulets of melting wax ran from the hat down the pin-striped uniform into the butter cream frosting.

The story, titled “For Derek Jeter, on His 37th Birthday,” was about how the Yankees’ captain, who turned 37 on June 26, has been in a type of hitting slump known as “aging.”  The fancy scientific reason the beloved Yankees’ captain has not been as productive behind the bat, whether made of ash or candle wax, is because of age-related degradation in his fast-twitch muscles.  Jeter now, apparently, requires a full half-second to decide whether to swing at a 90 m.p.h. pitch, rather than the mere quarter-second required in his 20s and early 30s.

I wonder how my fast-twitch muscles are faring these days.  I notice that I am not squashing bugs as quickly as I used to.  When driving, I do not swerve around roadkill as deftly as I once did.  And it now takes me a full two seconds to change the channel whenever that annoying commercial for Progressive Insurance with Flo comes on, whereas I used to change it almost instantaneously.

I remember when my parents turned 37.  I noticed that my father was taking a few extra seconds to pull the car over to the side of the road to yell at me for tormenting my brother with the business end of a seat belt.  And when I went to the supermarket with my mother, I could swap the Cheerios with Fruity Pebbles before she could turn her head.  I felt bad taking advantage of my parents’ aging, but Mariano Rivera would have done the same thing.

All around me I see evidence of age-related degradation of fast-twitch muscles.  Insurance adjusters taking a few minutes longer to reject my claim.  Cops taking a few extra seconds to flip on their lights when I go flying by them at roughly the same speed as a major league pitch.  Even the worker at the deli I frequent—he couldn’t have been a day over 32—did not react quickly enough to my direction of no onions when making my sandwich, leaving me to pick them out myself.

When I was younger I was always very fast at tying my shoes.  If I was inside watching television and heard, say, the ice cream man coming down the block, I would have my sneakers on and tied inside of 15 seconds, faster than it took my mother to say that I wasn’t getting any ice cream until I scraped the Silly Putty off the ceiling.

Just the other day I was lying in bed and heard the sound of the garbage truck coming down the block, and I realized, with a panic, that I’d forgotten to put out the paper garbage.  Naturally terrified at the prospect of going another two weeks with a mountain of Penny Savers and empty boxes of Count Chocula overflowing the blue bin in my garage, I leaped out of bed and ran downstairs.  I didn’t care if my hair was sticking out in several different directions, and  I didn’t care if my neighbors saw me in my Spider Man pajama pants.  But I didn’t dare go barefoot; that’s a good way to get a splinter.

I tied my sneakers as fast as I could, but something was missing.  Like the unnamed scout observed about Derek Jeter, my hands were slower, and my feet were slower.   I now know that a hundredth of a second separates not only a line drive to center field and foul tip into the stands, but also an empty blue recycling bin and a full one.  As I dove in vain towards the departing truck, I heard the sanitation worker say, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

So to Derek Jeter, I say: Happy birthday, hope you get your 3,000th hit, and invest in some Velcro cleats.

Have you noticed any degradation in your fast-twitch muscles or in the fast-twitch muscles of the people around you?

9 thoughts on “Growing Old With Derek Jeter

  1. Unfortunately, my kids’ fast twitch muscles are only improving now that they are teens, and mine are going downhill. I now take half an hour longer to make it from the produce section all the way over to the grapefruit juice in the refrigerators. By the time I get to the cashier stand, I not only have Fruity Pebbles in the cart, but also Rock Star, Oreos, three kinds of Ghirardelli chocolate, Pop Rocks, beef jerky and some fancy all-natural carbonated lemonade.

    And as for Derek Jeter, I’m delighted he is turning 37 today. I’d hate to have a crush on someone young enough to be my . . . . much younger brother. Go Yankees!

    1. Mmm…Ghiradelli chocolate and beef jerky. One of the reasons I love writing is that experience and deliberation are favored over speed and reflexes. I do feel, however, that Twitter often challenges that proposition.

  2. Glad to hear from you as this post is funny as always. First of all, the science part of baseball swings is interesting to me. Amazing how these guys can’t play anymore yet they’re still such specimens to regular humans.

    On the funny side, this one’s got a lot! I’m hoping my fast twitch muscles hang around for a bit longer, but I’ll catching Jeter before too long. Course by then he’ll be easy to catch in those velcro shoes.

    1. Thanks. Sounds like you might want to check out “The Physics of Baseball,” by Robert Adair (if you haven’t already). Michael Sokolove quotes from it a lot in the Times article. As for catching Jeter, you might want to invest in climbing gear, too; he’s evidently building a 30,000 sq. ft. palace in Florida that people are calling “St. Jetersburg.”

  3. A perfect post for a Friday. I too hate splinters and onions…..and now that I think about it, it took me half a second more to think of this comment….that much closer to death, I suppose.

    1. Thanks. I say, better thinking too long about something you’re about to put on the Internet, than too little, as an increasing number of journalists, politicians and actors can tell you.

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