What can I say about Derek Jeter that hasn’t already been said?
Since the beginning of the Major League Baseball season, the viewing public in America has been treated to the final tour of a great player. There I said it: A GREAT PLAYER!
What is it about this man from Kalamazoo, Michigan that sets him apart from everyone else who has played his position and the game?
As I have stated before in many a blog post, I am unabashedly a Yankee fan and have watched Derek Jeter play shortstop for his entire 20-year career. I’ve gone to spring training to see games, I’ve traveled to different cities to see games, and I can tell you without reservation that his greatness lies in the intangibles. The numbers speak for themselves: 3,465 hits, .310 batting average, 260 home runs, 1923 runs scored, 544 doubles, 358 stolen bases, and postseason stats that would be an MVP season by themselves (since he played 158 games in the postseason). These statistics are all merely numbers.
The greatness of what he has accomplished lies in the fact that he played 20 years in a city that nonchalantly chews up and spits out sports heroes like yesterday’s bazooka bubble gum. He was reserved with the media and always said the right thing, but that was the sign of ultimate leadership. He knew that if he deviated from the script, it could be catastrophic for the team. He was a guy who had in his fundamental DNA an imprint that said there was no “I” in team. Like his friend and teammate who retired last year, Mariano Rivera, accolades for self were secondary to what you could accomplish as a team. Ultimate humility was the touchstone for this man originally born in New Jersey.
And oh those Yankee teams over the past 20 years did a heck of a lot of winning. I can still say without any qualms that the World Series Championship in 1996 is still one that I am celebrating. When the Yankees lost the first two games to the Atlanta Braves at home, and then had to travel down to Atlanta to play three games there, I knew they had a mountain to climb. In the middle of everything was Derek Jeter.
He was a young phenom Shortstop who was just playing in his first season. He had come up and played a few games in 1995 and was on the roster for the Yankees playoff experience that ended with a heartbreaking loss in Seattle, but the shortstop position was his throughout 1996. He won the “Rookie of the Year” award in 1996, since renamed the Jackie Robinson Award.
I can talk about many different aspects. Baseball is more than just a game. For someone who is not a fan of the game, or the fan of a team, I don’t think there is a way to convey what baseball means. To me baseball has always meant walking into the huge granite façade of Yankee Stadium on an early spring day. As you walk through the bowels of the stadium, you see an entrance way that ramps up. You walk up the ramp into the light, and it is at that particular moment that you see the green of the field and smell the cotton candy and everything is right in the world. Then over the PA system you hear the voice of God, or Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium, booming with angelic intonation the words: “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Yankee Stadium!”
Bob Sheppard’s voice has now gone silent from Yankee Stadium. Derek used a tape of Mr. Sheppard’s introduction for the past 6 years. Bob Sheppard announced his last game in 2007, and died at the age of 99 in 2010. Another piece of childhood life fabric has gone away.
The real construct around Derek Jeter’s retirement is one of mortality. When our sports heroes retire we can only look in the mirror and say,” Did 20 years go by that quickly?”
Thank you George M. Steinbrenner III for giving this kid a shot and giving us fans 20 years of great memories!
To paraphrase another Yankee captain: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth because I got the chance to see Derek Jeter play!”
Good luck with everything in retirement Derek!
I know you are starting some publishing ventures and if you need a hand this Yankee fan is ready and willing to help out. I believe in TEAM 2!
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