Episode 1 of Derek Jeter doc ‘The Captain’ examines early life, but rarely strays from the known

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The billboard outside Fenway Park of Randy Wilkins' upcoming documentary about Derek Jeter, entitled "The Captain."
The billboard outside Fenway Park of Randy Wilkins’ upcoming documentary about Derek Jeter, entitled “The Captain.”
Photo by Randy Wilkins

It was the peak behind that Yankees fans had waited for Derek Jeter’s entire career to get and even more so in the years since he hung up his pinstripes and stepped away from the field. 

The long-awaited premiere of “The Captain” finally came on Monday night after Juan Soto — who is a possible Yankees trade target — won the MLB Home Run Derby out in Los Angeles. The seven-part docu-series has been billed as an inside look at the life and career of one of the Yankees’ most iconic players. 

For all of his 20-year career in pinstripes, Jeter carried around the reputation of being reserved about his life and trying to keep the focus on the field and not away from it. The new documentary was expected to take fans into a part of Jeter’s life that had rarely been delved into during his time as a player. 

While the first episode gave Yankees and baseball fans a fun look at several aspects of his early life and career, the premiere won’t wow people right off the bat. Director and three-time Emmy Award winner  Randy Wilkins used the episode to examine Jeter’s childhood and assention from baseball standout in Kalamazoo, MI to his early professional days inside the Yankees organization. 

The show also begins to examine the role race has played in Jeter’s life and career, having been the son of a black father and white mother. Both of Jeter’s parents are featured prominently through the 52:23 episode and discuss how they instilled a hard work ethic in both Derek Jeter and his sister, Sharlee. 

They also discussed how they prepared Jeter and his sister for life as a black man and woman in the midwestern United States. Jeter even shared a particularly poignant moment following his minor league season in his hometown of Kalamazoo when he experienced racism firsthand for the first time. 

Race has never been a front and center topic when it came to Jeter and his time in professional baseball, so the examination of it and how it impacted the famed captain’s life was a divergence from the normal talking points that have surrounded Jeter’s career. 

However, the episode takes a very surface-level stab at the early parts of Jeter’s career, including his struggles during his first minor league season. The hour run time for broadcast television meant that there were likely plenty of great anecdotes that were left on the cutting room floor and the overall tone of that first minor league year was there.

The Jeter doc will give baseball fans their fix of nostalgia over one of the greatest shortstops to play in New York and there are plenty of fun tidbits in the nearly hour-long episode. The footage of Derek Jeter on the day he was drafted is a nice look at an intimate family moment and old footage of the way Major League Baseball used to conduct its draft looks like it was shot in 1982 and not 1992. 

Jeter’s connection to George Steinbrenner’s nemesis Dave Winfield is a nice touch and the look at the role that Steinbrenner’s suspension for two years played a hand in the building of the 90s Yankees dynasty adds a nice touch to the film. 

Overall a Yankees fan will find plenty to enjoy from the first episode of “The Captain” and the ratings are sure to reflect a hit. Still, unlike “The Last Dance,” the premiere episode didn’t seem to explore many new avenues that hadn’t already been well documented in the past. 

The second episode of the series airs Thursday at 9 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN+.

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