ESPN’s new Derek Jeter documentary series promises to be the ultimate curveball for fans of the Yankees great.
The seven-part “The Captain” shows the Hall of Fame shortstop like never before, with in-depth interviews from Jeter, his family and former teammates that explore his famously private life and career, director Randy Wilkins says.
“(Audiences are) going to be introduced to a candid, open and vulnerable Derek Jeter who is peeling the layers back a little bit, both on the professional side and the personal side,” Wilkins told the Daily News.
“They’re going to see a Derek Jeter that will take people on an emotional journey. He is far from the public persona that people recognize so well over his 20-year playing career. You’re just gonna see the man himself. You’re gonna see the human side of Derek Jeter.”
Jeter became interested in reflecting on his career through a documentary around the time he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020, realizing his two young daughters never got to see him play. He and wife Hannah Jeter have since had a third daughter last year.
He sat down for 30 hours of interviews with the Bronx-born Wilkins, a Spike Lee protégé who says he was repeatedly surprised by Jeter’s story as he worked on the series, premiering Monday on ESPN and ESPN+ after the MLB Home Run Derby.
“The immediate thing that comes to mind is how much his identity as a biracial Black man influenced the way he perceived the world and the way the world interacts with him,” Wilkins said.
“The experiences he had as a young man in Kalamazoo, Mich., and as he was coming up through the ranks of the Yankees minor league system. He’s had experiences that really molded the way that he interacts with the public and his world view.”
Wilkins interviewed 90 people for “The Captain,” including retired Yankees such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez.
The director says “it wasn’t difficult” for Jeter to open up about his complicated relationship with Rodriguez, who was famously critical of him in an Esquire interview before they became teammates in 2004.
“(Jeter) was very open about it and I would say in some ways eager to express what happened in their relationship. The thing that made it difficult is because there was so much nuance to it,” Wilkins said.
“Having A-Rod be a part of the film helps it a lot, because now we have both perspectives on it. It’s clear that on both sides, at some point, the Esquire article kind of violated a trust that Derek had with Alex, and Alex was aware of that. I think that things kind of went south after that, and then they’re teammates, and it’s difficult to reconcile personal issues in New York City. Two big stars, big media capital, and you still have to go out and win.”
The 48-year-old Jeter won five World Series during his 20 seasons with the Yankees and ranks sixth in MLB history with 3,465 hits. He was named the Yankees captain in 2003, and his No. 2 was retired by the team in 2017.
Jeter originally reached out to the Oscar-winning Lee to direct “The Captain,” but Lee was already working on another documentary. He recommended Wilkins, whom he’d taught at NYU’s graduate film school before collaborating with him on many movies. Lee served as an executive producer on “The Captain.”
Wilkins — a Yankees fan who always considered Jeter his favorite player — says deciding to helm the documentary series was “the quickest yes I’ve ever given.”
“He’s a big star and an icon, but for me he’s a human being just like anybody else,” Wilkins said. “I firmly believe in presenting yourself as you are, and not changing who you are or approaching people with ulterior motives. This is who I am, and this is who you’re gonna get, and I think Derek respected that. He respected my honesty.”
Following Monday’s premiere, episodes of “The Captain” will air every Thursday.
Wilkins says he believes Jeter is “still coming to grips with this idea that his life is now public” but is excited for audiences to tune in.
“I think that’s challenging, in a way, for someone who likes to protect himself and protect those that he loves, and someone that obviously was reticent to reveal everything about himself with the public,” Wilkins said. “But he also wants people to enjoy it.”