Melissa Hughes

The first in an occasional series, TWIBO explores the good-looking men of Major League Baseball and the women who adore them.

There are many reasons to enjoy Baseball. Some appreciate the relaxed pace created by a sport unfettered by time constraints. Others are quick to point out how democratic it is. It doesn't require excessive brawn, like football or tremendous height, like basketball. (Remember kids, the shorter you are, the smaller your strike zone.) Some are fascinated by the limitless strategy, others by the unending number of ways to manipulate the statistics. Personally, it's the toc of bat hitting ball that does it for me.

But for a particularly dedicated group of ladies, it's the cast of characters that proves most appealing.

For Jenn, a 17-year-old from Southern California, Derek Jeter is the star of the show. A high school junior whose online name is jennjeter2, Jenn is the starting shortstop for her school's varsity team. In her spare time she maintains "The Derek Jeter Page," located at www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Loge/5483/.

A quick check of the page reveals everything you could possibly stand to know about the 23-year-old Yankee shortstop, including highlights of his rookie year, as well as career batting and fielding stats. But what about those hard-to-find, quirky Jeter facts? Jenn admits, "I don't really have any bizarre info on him, except maybe the fact that I've heard he is afraid of dogs, and he dislikes cats."

This "Jeter Madness" begs the question: which came first, a love of Jeter, or a love of baseball? Surprisingly, this ten year fan of the game has been a Yankee fan "for as long as I can remember," and is a card-carrying member of the Yankee Fan Club. She attends between ten and fifteen games in Anaheim, catching as many Yankee games as she can.

But what exactly started all of this "Jeter Worship?"

"I remember seeing Jeter play when he was with the Hornets. That's when I first became a fan of his. I have been a fan of his ever since." Jenn also boasts, "I am a member of several Derek Jeter fan clubs." She also admits to having "a ton of Jeter memorabilia. My bedroom is completely Jeter. My walls are Jetered out."

Let's pause for a moment to consider the plausible reasons for Jenn's devotion. They do have a lot in common:

- They're both shortstops;

- They both love the Yankees;

Actually, that's all I could come up with, so I asked her.

"I am not going to lie...I think Derek is the sexiest man I've ever seen." Surprise, surprise.

"I have met Derek only once at a game against the Angels here in Anaheim. He took the picture I had of him and signed it very politely, as he asked me my name and how I was. It may not seem like a big deal, but it was the greatest moment of my life."

Alright, I know what you're thinking, guys. "Girls aren't fans, they're groupies." Hold on. This is not baseball's answer to Monica Lewinsky.

Jenn approaches her Jeter adulation in a very sober way - "I guess I am dull, but I have never really done anything crazy to show how much of a fan I am. I figure that Derek sees millions of girls everyday, holding up signs and screaming, so I don't want him to think that I am just another crazy girl with a crush."

Yeah. Besides, that's my job.

When asked what she finds most appealing about the Yankee pretty boy, she replied, "I find his modesty most appealing. The fact that he is an incredible athlete, but does not let that get to his head and make him arrogant."

She spent a lot of time building her page "in honor of Derek and his playing abilities" and claims that her personally autographed picture of him is her most treasured "item of Jeter." But ultimately, she knows where her loyalties lie. "I would be very upset if the Yankees ever traded Derek, however, that would not change my devotion to the Yankees." Like the game itself, Jenn is very democratic. "Derek would continue to be my favorite player, no matter what team he was on," she says, "and the Yankees would still be my number one team.

"The thing I love most about baseball is the players and the game. I love everything about the game. However, it seems to me that baseball is becoming more and more like a business, and more of the players seem more interested in the money rather than the game, and this bothers me a little."

It keeps me up nights, come to think of it.

I invited Jenn to play "Virtual Gammons: the Home Version," and she buzzed in, answering, "My predictions for the 1998 season include the NY Yankees as not only division and league champions, but world champions also."

If things don't work out that way, at least she'll have her senior year of high school to distract her from the postseason.

Melissa Hughes gives Baseball groupies everywhere a bad name. Express your concerns, cluck you tongue, and recommend reputable psychiatrists at Melissah@earthlink.net.

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