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12/01/09 10:46 PM EST

Jeter credits parents for success

Yankees' father introduces him at Sportsman of the Year gala

NEW YORK -- You won't be able to miss Derek Jeter grinning back at you from newsstands across the country this week, a bat slung over his right shoulder as he leans his crisp white pinstripes against the green paint of the Yankee Stadium subway stop.

But when Jeter inspects the cover of Sports Illustrated depicting him as the 2009 Sportsman of the Year, he calls it "very humbling" and sees something that might not have been on 161st Street that morning, but resides embedded deep within him every single day.

"I thought the cover came out nice. The only thing that I thought was missing from that were my parents on both sides," Jeter said. "Even if you don't see them, just know that they're there beside me at all times."

While Jeter has been widely praised as an integral part of the Yankees' success, the Sportsman of the Year Award has transcended statistics since being coined by the publication in 1954.

Presented annually to a person who excels in athletic performance and demonstrates great character, Jeter is the first Yankee to win the award, an accomplishment which prompted Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig to make a special trip out of respect for what he called "a great thing for baseball."

"I've said many times that I thought Derek Jeter has been the face of baseball," Selig said on Tuesday. "He's really been a great player on the field, but more importantly, he has really been a remarkable person off the field in every way. I'm really very proud of him."

It seemed appropriate that when the shortstop was asked who he would like to have introduce him during a ceremony in New York's Meatpacking District, Jeter's lightning-quick response was that he wanted his parents at the podium.

So on a night when Jeter officially received a commemorative trophy at a ceremony in New York, Dr. Charles Jeter did the honors, revealing that while the Yankees steamed to a 27th World Series championship, the proud father was thinking back to the formative days that molded Jeter into the sportsman he was to become.

"It seemed like I spent a lot of time thinking about Derek in Little League," Dr. Jeter said. "Opening Day, walking the parade with his uniform on, and he's stepping up with his shoulders back and smiling -- so proud to be part of a team as he heads to the field. Some of that enthusiasm, I still see now."

The spirit of the award is captured by a 1957 profile on Stan Musial, when Andre Laguerre wrote, "The victory may have been his, but it is not for the victory alone that he is honored. Rather it is for the quality of his effort and the manner of his striving."

Sportsmen of the Year
Fourteen baseball players and one team have received Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award since its inception in 1954.
1955 Johnny Podres
1957 Stan Musial
1965 Sandy Koufax
1967 Carl Yastrzemski
1969 Tom Seaver
1975 Pete Rose
1979 Willie Stargell (with Terry Bradshaw)
1988 Orel Hershiser
1995 Cal Ripken Jr.
1998 Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa
2001 Curt Schilling/Randy Johnson
2004 Boston Red Sox
2009 Derek Jeter

That screams 'Jeter' to SI group editor Terry McDonell, who has been considering naming Jeter the Sportsman since he first accepted his job 10 years ago.

"This award is not really about statistics or numbers," McDonell said. "It's about character, off the field and on. The mix of that rewards all fans. I can't think of anyone who more exemplifies that than Derek Jeter."

A star on the playing field, Jeter has also distributed more than $10 million to students through his Turn 2 Foundation, which he founded as a rookie in 1996 over pizza in a Detroit hotel room with his father.

"When you think about being a good sportsman, there's a lot of things that come to mind," Jeter said. "People tell you it's success on the baseball field, and I think that's part of it. I also think there's a lot of qualities that go into it -- hard work, dedication, pride, humility. These are all things that I learned at a very young age."

He has had to, as a survival tool of sorts. Jeter debuted with the Yankees as a 20-year-old in 1995 and compared his life to the 1998 movie 'The Truman Show,' where Jim Carrey's character grows up in front of a television audience. Jeter's life has been like that in some ways, but he has not permitted it to change him.

"There have been a lot of athletes who came to New York and were eaten up by everything," said former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason. "It's been amazing watching him over the years, what he's done here and how he's done it. He has a level of class and professionalism. That's the quintessential athlete and the Sportsman of the Year that you want. SI got it right on this one."

That Little Leaguer is still part of Jeter, whether he is chatting with fans near the on-deck circle before an at-bat or sliding into second base during the World Series, remarking to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, "That's not bad ... for a guy who's getting old."

"To me, it's impossible to do well unless you have fun," Jeter said. "I want to play as long as I'm having fun, and I'm having a blast right now."

For Jeter, the Sportsman of the Year Award is just one more cherry on top of a sweet pile that has included serving as the captain of the Team USA entry in the World Baseball Classic, plus winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.

Before hoisting the World Series trophy above Yankee Stadium, the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer also was named the AL recipient of the Hank Aaron Award -- given to the best hitter in each league -- and Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award, bestowed upon players who not only succeed on the field, but off of it with community involvement.

"He's had a heck of a year," Selig said. "When you think back in his career, playing in New York is not an easy place for a player to play, through some troubling times. He's been a remarkable person."

Jeter becomes SI's 14th baseball honoree, joining sports legends like Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods on a list to end all lists.

"This has been unbelievable," Jeter said. "Really, what else can happen in one year? It's been a tremendous year for us, and it all starts with us winning. To get this on top of it, it's pretty special."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.