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DEREK JETER The Yankees' Most Valuable Player by Kaya Morgan

He's America's baseball heartthrob and all-around good guy, making double plays both on and off the field. Shortstop, Derek Jeter knows just how abundantly blessed a Yankee can be. In the second-biggest deal in sports history, he took home a cool $189 million and 10-year commitment as the New York Yankees' MVP, making him the second highest paid player in baseball. Without question, Jeter is the most valuable m an on the baseball diamond today and has obtained the type of fame that almost transcends the game.

Despite his success, this handsome 28-year-old remains humble and faithful to his roots. Born in Pequannock, New Jersey, on June 26, 1974, into a biracial family, his mother, Dorothy, of Irish heritage, worked as an accountant while his father, Charles, of African-American descent, worked as a substance abuse counselor. When Jeter was four, the family moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan. He and sister, Sharlee, would spend a month each summer in New Jersey with their grandmother, Dot, who was a zealous Yankees' fan. It was she who took him to his first game at Yankee Stadium, inspiring him with stories about listening to the radio and hearing Joe DiMaggio's bat crushing a curve ball, or about going to the stadium to walk past Babe Ruth's casket in 1948. Before long, Derek would drag his grandmother out of bed at the crack of dawn just to have a catch.

For as long as anyone can remember, Jeter had one goal: to play ball for the Yanks. He told his fourth-grade teacher he wanted to be a Yankee, wrote an essay in eighth grade about playing shortstop for the Yankees, in eleventh grade when given an assignment to create a coat of arms unique to his personality, it featured a picture of a Yankee at bat, and referred to himself in his yearbook as "a professional ballplayer for the Yankees'." Proof of his dream was reflected everywhere, from the photos of a Yankee uniform hanging on the wall of his childhood bedroom, to a ski outing at age 12, showing him on the slopes wearing not a ski parka but a Yankees' warm-up jacket.

But, Jeter knew early on that if he wanted to play in the Little League all-star games or go to a baseball camp, he had better come home with good grades and keep his behavior in check. Each August, he sat down with his parents and wrote a contract for the upcoming school year. They agreed to terms on grades, sports, extracurricular activities and curfews. And, there were consequences for breaking the contract. Driven by his passion to play ball, Jeter successfully maintained a 3.83 grade-point average in high school, never cursed, and true to his clean-cut image, ate peanut butter sandwiches before games.

By his senior year, Derek was one of the best high school baseball players in the country. Although he had signed a letter of intent to the University of Michigan, he also had the option of signing with a Major-League team. But, fulfilling his dream and becoming a Yankee seemed unlikely. Rumors were that he would go to the Houston Astros, who had first pick, or any team other than the Yankees, who picked sixth. As fate intervened, the Yankees' nabbed Jeter, and he has never looked back since.

After years in the spotlight, Jeter has done nothing to blemish his wholesome image: no arrests, no confessional revelations, no tantrums. The fact that he leads such a clean lifestyle makes him an attractive role model to all young fans everywhere, including sponsors. It is said that having Jeter on your team is like having a ratings blockbuster. His endorsement deals have included Nike, Gatorade, Visa, Skippy peanut butter, Oreo cookies, Ritz crackers, Fleet Bank, Fila, and Fleer trading cards. He even had his own cereal, Jeter Flakes, with all the proceeds going to charity. Young baseball infielders everywhere sport his number, "2," and his autograph is one of the most sought after in all of sports.

One of the most photographed athletes in history, Derek Jeter is in high demand. The New York tabloids follow every step of his love life, which has included a dalliance with pop diva Mariah Carey and former Miss Universe, Lara Dutta. And, when he walks out onto the field, women can be heard screaming as though he were a rock star. While other members of the Yankees are stars, Jeter gets the calls to guest on MTV, Saturday Night Live, with features in GQ, Sports Illustrated, selected as one of People magazine's, "50 Most Beautiful People," and received a multimillion dollar book deal from Crown.

Baseball is, of course, obsessed with numbers. Since he was named American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, Jeter's have only gotten better. He has played in five World Series and four all-star games, led the league in runs in 1998, while in 1999 he led the league in hits. In 2000, Jeter was named the all-star MVP, as well as the World Series MVP, again setting baseball history. In 2001, Derek had another phenomenal season, topping .300, with 21 home runs, stole 27 bases and earned another all-star selection. In the 2002 season, he was selected to the all-star team, and held the most post-season hits in the history of baseball.

In sports, an athlete is also measured by team success, fan likeability, intelligence and personal success. Derek Jeter scores high marks in all categories, but it is his personal achievement of having created two charitable foundations, Jeter's Leaders and the Turn 2 Foundation — projects designed to prevent and treat substance abuse among adolescents — that have brought him the most satisfaction.

Surely, Jeter possesses everything one would want in a model athlete — he performs well under pressure, is soft-spoken, has major fan power, and tremendous instincts for the game of baseball. Aiming for Yankee greatness for most of his life and having the good fortune to be living his dream, "When I retire," Jeter says, "I want to be remembered as a Yankee." No doubt, he will — a very rich Yankee.

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