Photo: Derek Jeter/Facebook
“Is that Derek Jeter?” my friend Caitlin asked as we sat eating lunch at a luxury resort in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney in late March.
It could be. We were at the exclusive and swanky One&Only Wolgan Valley — just the kind of place a famous person would go. Plus, Jeter had just retired, so maybe a vacation at the start of baseball season made sense.
But I couldn’t really see. First of all, to me, celebrities always look a little different in person — skinnier, usually shorter, just more ordinary. Second, he was sitting behind me, and since it was just us and the guy she thought was Jeter (and his friends) at the small patio café, I was hesitant to do a 180-turn to check. “I don’t know,” I said, trying to remember what he looked like, and whether he was a Met or a Yankee. (Yes, I call myself a New Yorker, but I’m clearly not a sports fan.)
View from the cafe at One&Only Wolgan Valley (Photo: Leah Ginsberg)
While Caitlin stared, I decided to eavesdrop. “I’ll have the steak sandwich, without the bread,” said one of the guys. The order then evolved into a conversation about protein. “It might be him,” I whispered to Cait. “They’re talking about protein. Athletes like to eat protein,” I reasoned.
“Their eyebrows are very well-groomed,” Caitlin added. Interesting — another clue he might be someone famous.
When we got up to leave, possible-Derek-Jeter and his pals were already gone.
After lunch, Caitlin and I headed to the lobby to arrange our place on a wildlife tour later in the day. We were itching to see some kangaroos in the wild, and with 7,000 acres of pristine grasslands, forest, and mountains, this was the place to do it.
Never afraid to say what she’s thinking, Cait asked the concierge: “Was that Derek Jeter, the American baseball player, who we just saw downstairs?”
“If you think it’s the guest, it’s probably the guest,” the woman responded with a sly smile. We immediately decided the woman was giving us a secret message that it was indeed Jeter.
No matter. We soon got our answer. Cait and I got on the four-wheel bus-like vehicle the hotel had arranged for our wildlife drive. There was an older Dutch couple already there and we were waiting for a few more guests. That’s when Derek Jeter and two of his friends climbed on the bus and sat behind us.
This is a video from the star-studded wildlife drive. (Video: Leah Ginsberg)
The drive was amazing. I alternated taking shots of kangaroos, wallaroos, and wallabies with my Cannon Powershot, my iPhone, and videos with my GoPro. With the celebrity presence, I felt a little self-conscious about the all the cameras hanging from by body. And since Cait and I were on opposite sides of the bus, if one of us saw something amazing out our window, we’d do a mini kind of Chinese fire drill and hastily switch sides to look out the other’s windows. Derek Jeter thinks we’re crazy, I thought to myself.
Jeter and his friends looked very L.A. (even though he played for New York). Cait was right about their eyebrows, and they were all wearing pretty stylish jeans, T-shirts, and sunglasses. Cait being the friendly one started talking to Jeter and his two friends. “I’m Derek,” I heard him say.
OK, so maybe there are some kangaroos that want to kick your a**. (Photo: Tambako The Jaguar/Flickr)
Within a few minutes they were fast friends. “You should have seen the kangaroo we saw at the Sydney zoo,” Jeter said to Cait, who was sitting right in front of him. “He was so meaty!” Jeter then proceeded to take out his phone and scroll through his pictures of this huge kangaroo. I worried Cait’s head was about to explode. “Look at how big he is. Look at the muscles in his back,” exclaimed Jeter. “He was scary!” I had to chuckle that Derek Jeter was scared of a kangaroo in a cage. It was kind of endearing.
Cait then explained to the guys all about wombats, and we made sure to point one out when we drove by. She told the guys that in a few days we would be cuddling koalas. “We want to cuddle koalas!” they yelled, very excited at the prospect. “You have to go to Queensland,” I said, as we were in New South Wales, where it’s banned. “There are only a few places where you can do it.” Of course, if you’re Derek Jeter, maybe they let you cuddle a koala wherever you want, I thought to myself.
The mountains Jeter wanted a picture in front of. (Photo: Leah Ginsberg)
At one point during the drive, we stopped and got out of the bus for a little walk around and a great photo op of the nearby mountains. Derek Jeter handed me his iPhone and said, “Will you take a picture of us?” I squashed the urge to see who he had texted last and snapped a shot of him and his two pals in front of the breathtaking scenery.
“Take a picture of them with your camera!” Cait squealed in my ear. “No, I feel bad,” I said. (I’d much rather just write about it when I’m safely back at my desk in the States.)
Later that night after dinner, we ran into Jeter and his friends again. “Look who it is!” they said and chatted for a minute. They were staying in the only three-bedroom villa up on a hill that Cait and I had been wondering about. Jeter and his friends looked like they were ready for a fun night out — despite the fact there’s really nothing to do in Wolgan Valley.
That was the last time we saw Jeter. As it turns out, he is a totally nice, down-to-earth guy. At least when he’s talking to strangers on vacation.
After the trip I scoured the Internet for pictures from Jeter’s trip to Australia. There was nothing. His Facebook timeline went from shots of his Celebrity Golf Classic in Las Vegas earlier in March to posts about his youth leadership program, Jeter’s Leaders, in early April. I did find a tweet from a sports writer in late March proclaiming that Derek Jeter was in Sydney for the Cricket World Cup, which was happening at the time. And there was another tweet with a blurry picture of Jeter at a Sydney Blue Sox baseball game. But mostly, Cait and I had Jeter all to ourselves, at least for a couple of hours.
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