It’s an early Spring evening. The Yankee Stadium crowd, not as large as it had been in recent years, settles in to watch their Bombers play. The club takes the field and the Bleacher Creatures begin their traditional roll call…and when they get to shortstop…he’s no longer there. Now granted, this season that scenario has presented itself more often than not, but there will come a day when it is permanently the case. Derek Jeter’s name is now on Father Time’s list of players he will tap on the shoulder…we all wish we could find Doc Brown, jump in the Delorian and bring back a younger Captain Jeter from say 1999 or 2000…but we can’t, and are starting to accept that all good things come to an end.
My dad talks about the last season of Mickey Mantle. Watching a Titan fade into mortality. It happens to all the greats, their numbers and plaques hanging in Monument Park, standing guard over the diamond in the Bronx. Derek Jeter will be there too. He will soon join Mickey, Whitey, Yogi and the Babe. It seems he was destined to take his place among the Pinstripe Legends from the first game he played in the big leagues. There has always been something special about the kid from Kalamazoo. But it’s not just his 5 World Championships, All-Star appearances, Gold Gloves, 3000 hits and so on…it’s what he means to the game.
When Jeter does finally hang up the spikes and walk away, all Yankee fans will feel that loss. I think back to when my favorite player, Paul O’Neill, walked back to the dugout during his last game at Old Yankee Stadium. I can still hear the chanting of a fan base that truly loved the guy for all he did on the field. He tipped his cap to the roaring applause and flash bulbs and disappeared from sight. Can you imagine what it will be like when Jeter takes his curtain call? In my opinion it won’t be just New York die-hards calling his name, but sports fans everywhere…yes, even you guys up in Boston.
This season is the Season of Mariano, and rightly so. Mo, like Jeter, has been a consummate winner. He has been bigger than the game, and the reception he has been given all around the league on his farewell tour is proof of that. Meanwhile Jeter has been off on the sideline, nursing an ankle he broke by gutting out a painful bone bruise last season until it couldn’t take anymore. It’s been tough to watch him watch. It’s been tough to see a guy stare at the sun setting on his career. Yeah, I’m being a bit poetic, but that’s the way I feel about heroes in the game of baseball. The human side of this sport shows up more so than any other in my opinion.
What I think will start to dawn on us all, is how “The Captain” is more than just a New York Yankee. Jeter has been the face of the game for a long time. He has always handled things the right way, both on and off the field. There is a group of rising MLB stars that openly admit that Jeter was the guy they looked up to as kids. He is humble, almost to a fault. He leads by example and takes the responsibility of being a professional baseball player and celebrity very seriously. Like Joe DiMaggio before him, Jeter always gives it his all because he feels he owes it to the fans that root for him. Think about that…Jeter believes he owes us.
More and more we see athletes who may be outstanding, gifted talents, but seem to be consumed with personal stats or fame. They worry about their twitter following, grabbing headlines and showboating. They celebrate the individual rather than the team. And these are the players the next generation will see and emulate. Watching your handy work to show up a pitcher and celebrations after routine plays are now the standard.
As we watch the last seasons of Jeter, we see that he may be the last of his kind for a long time. I can hear that verse from Simon and Garfunkel’s song “Mrs. Robinson”, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you.” and think of how it rings true today…only soon it will be Derek Jeter.
I’ll miss the guy because I’m a life long Yankee fan, but it’s more than that. I’ll miss Jeter because he has been a Captain to all of us… in more than just baseball.
--Mike O'Hara, MLB Fan Cave Host, Season 1
"Paulie was always my favorite player."