Since I was very, very, very young, I was taught the male baseball watchers in my family are to be fans of the New York Yankees. I do believe I have been a tremendous disappointment to my male brethren, as their indoctrination process failed miserably.
I started out cheering for the Montreal Expos. I followed Gary Carter after his trade to the New York Mets, and remained a Mets’ fan until Gary’s death. It was then the campaigning from my family members began in earnest once again. However, I took a different turn, and have been a Detroit Tiger’s fan since then. I can state on a stack of Bibles: I am NOT a Yankee fan. I will never be a Yankee fan. I will never turn to the dark side. It will not happen. Ever.
There are some aspects of the Yankees’ organization that I ADMIRE: their incredible sense of history and tradition, their many championships, and most of all, The Captain, #2 Derek Jeter.
As anyone who follows sports, or even might be a casual baseball fan knows, Derek Jeter is retiring at the end of this season. His announcement during last year’s off-season came as no surprise as the other three of the “core four” Yankees: Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada had already retired in the past few years. He’s getting old, and the body is starting to break down. His desire to play is still there, but he know’s it is time to step away, and let the re-building of the Yankees begin.
This column won’t contain the story of his upbringing in a travelling military family, the missteps of several GM’s who skipped him in the draft, or his pre-MLB career. It will contain pertinent statistics when required to outline a point. No, this column is about Derek Jeter, the baseball player, athelete, and most importantly, role model to everyone in sports.
The final game in his Hall of Fame career will fittingly be against the arch-rival Boston Red Sox, in Boston on September 28th. His final home game is on Thursday night, the 25th, against this year’s AL East Champion Baltimore Orioles. I expect it will be one of the most emotional games of all times.
The last time I remember being this psyched up for a regular season game NOT involving one of my teams, actually involved the Baltimore Orioles as well. Except that game didn’t involve just the number 2, it involved the number 2131. It was on September 6, 1995 and Cal Ripken, as he broke Lou Gehrig’s all-time “Iron Man” record for consecutive games played. I remember watching the game in my room, and as the game became official seeing that banner drop. I remember Oriole Park at Camden Yards going insane, Ripken running a lap around the stadium giving high-fives to the fans, and me applauding and shedding tears the whole time. The similarities between the two are there, but Ripken was by far the better defensive player. Both played shortstop (Ripken for the majority of his career), both hold almost unbreakable records on their teams, both ended their career’s at the right time, and both are the model for what a profesional athlete should be.
I was very fortunate to go to Montreal during 2001 to see an inter-league series between the Expos and the Orioles. I saw the last two games of three game set and watched Cal Ripken play in his final year. I held a ticket to the first game of the next series as well: the Yankees were in Montreal, and Derek Jeter was in his sixth year playing shortstop. In three days, I got to see two of the greatest baseball players to ever play the game. It truly was one of the best times I’ve ever had, both on and off the field.
Jeter’s farewell tour is wrapping up at just the right time for the sports world. For the past several weeks and months, we have been inundated with stories about the incredibly poor decisions, brutally violent acts, and sheer incompetence throughout the sports’ world, and the NFL in particular. Derek Jeter spent TWENTY YEARS under the New York City media microscope, and has come out unscathed, unharmed, and completely free of controversy. Well, if you want to call an unending string of relationships with some of the most attractive women in the world, and an enviable string of one-night stands a controversy, you’re talking to the wrong guy.
He avoided any blemish because he didn’t give people anything to talk about. Derek Jeter played baseball. He knew what his role was as the captain of one of the most highly regarded sporting organizations in the world. When he got off the field, he lived his life away from the lights, not looking for trouble, or to get his name out there. He has always been the prime example of how an athlete can show grace and class, both on and off the playing field.
Today’s youth who want to play any sport should be paying very close attention to what happens over the next week. They will bear witness to one of the greatest players who ever played baseball ride off into the sunset. They should study how he managed to handle himself throughout all of his years as a lifelong Yankee, both the good, and especially the bad. And oh boy, did he have some bad times. But never once did he lose faith in himself. Not once did anyone doubt him. This was because they knew how committed to his not embarrassing his family, the sport of baseball, and the New York Yankees. Now, the sports community doesn’t need to be full of “Derek Jeter’s”. But it would be a damn lot better off if there were many, many more athletes willing to shoulder the load that Jeter has. He once said, “There may be people who have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you.”
The Yankees have Joe DiMaggio’s famous quote, “I’d like to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee. ” on their clubhouse exit to the diamond. And to once again tie in Cal Ripken Jr. with Lou Gehrig’s famous, “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth” speech, I think it behooves us all to be thankful we have had the incredible thrill, pleasure, and true honor to watch Derek Jeter play baseball for 20 years. He was the leader of the clubhouse, settling teammate disputes, offering up motivational speeches, and playing to win at all costs in as unforgiving an environment as you can play in. Thursday night we will watch the finale of what might very well be the first ever unanimously voted first ballot Hall of Fame. We have always known that there is no “I” in Jeter. But we now have learned that there is a “2,” in #RE2PECT.