From the Archives: We grew up with Derek Jeter; his retirement is the end of an era in our lives.
Editor’s Note: This homage was first published on September 29, 2014, the day after Jeter’s last game of his career. Now, on the doorstep of his induction to the MLB Hall of Fame, we are taking a look back:
Yesterday, Derek Jeter played his last game in pinstripes, concluding a sterling twenty-year career as the face and heart of the New York Yankees.
Over these past weeks, at the conclusion of the RE2PECT farewell tour, we’ve had no shortage of Jeter tribute pieces. He put up incredible Hall-of-Fame-worthy numbers, finishing 6th in MLB history in hits (1st among shortstops). His clutch play in the postseason earned him the Captain Clutch and Mr. November monikers. His signature plays – the taking the cut off throw and flipping home to nail Jeremy Giambi at the plate in the post-season or rocketing himself into the stands to catch a foul ball against the Red Sox – are a testament to his understanding of the game and his hustle. Almost equally as legendary as Jeter’s on the field play, was his grace and dignity. And all done under the intense spotlight and scrutiny of the New York City.
Last Thursday night, Jeter played his last game at Yankee Stadium. In true Jeter fashion, he singled in the winning run in the bottom of the 9th inning, a classic inside-out opposite field line drive to right field. After the game, he was greeted by his former teammates Rivera, Posada, Pettite, Bernie Williams, and his manager Joe Torre. Jeter took one last jog out to shortstop and said his goodbyes to the crowd. The stadium was electric with chants of “Derek Jeter.” It was quite a moment.
The next day, the question on the table – through emails and texts and face-to-face conversations with my friends – was: “So, did you cry when you were watching Jeter’s last home game?”
Apparently, this placed me in the extreme minority of my friends. I had lapped it up; it was an awesome moment. But it hadn’t made me sad. But in the days since, as Jeter approached his final game last night, it hit me.
As Jeter’s manager and former teammate, Joe Girardi said: “There is a sadness in me. You never want to see great players leave.” And that’s right. There is a sadness in me too. But not just because Jeter is a great player, but because we grew up together. And that makes the end of this era more meaningful.
Jeter broke in with the Yankees as a 20 year old kid in 1995, and has been a fixture at shortstop ever since, leading the Yankees to five World Series Championships and countless postseason appearances.
To Yankee fans of a certain age (namely, mine), Jeter is all we’ve known at shortstop for almost as long as we can remember. In one of the beautiful fictions of sports-fandom, we grew up together, in a way. Sports is one way that we mark time.
When I graduated college and got my first job, Derek came up to man shortstop for the New York Yankees.
Fresh out of college and ready to take on the world, we were there, in bars rooting on Jeter and the Yankees as they filled our youth with championship moments and World Series rings.
And as we married and got “real jobs” and had kids, we watched and we showed them: the jump-throw to first, the iconic the stance, the step-load- and look-the-pitch-into-the-catchers-glove for strike one.
New generations – our children – in #2 jerseys. We drape our arm around their shoulder and point out to the Yankee shortstop: “That’s Derek Jeter.” Because that’s the kind of role model we want for our kids to see and know, a hard-worker who achieves success on the highest stage:
Jeter said that the end, for him, was extremely difficult, extremely emotional. That he almost lost it several times. And he was gracious. He thanked us – the fans – he said that we were the best part.
We’re emotional too. For many, Jeter was our childhood. We built all these memories together. And here we are at forty. The problem is baseball players get to retire when they hit middle-age. Not so for the rest of us.
So, it’s not that we’re not thrilled and honored to have been along for the ride – to get to see a great player do his thing each and every day. It’s just that we’re not quite sure what to do with ourselves now.
(Photo Credit – Associated Press)