I've read the tribute pieces, connected to him through the pages of the New York Magazine article this week and watched him grow over the last 20 years, as a player, leader and ambassador of baseball. But, I have to say, when Derek Jeter calmly and poetically uttered the words, "I'll walk from here," in the Gatorade tribute piece, it got to me. It was right there and then that I realized the powerful finality of Jeter's decision to retire from the game he has played his whole life.
What's different about Jeter than any other player in my lifetime is his commitment to being at his best, no matter the cost, no matter the effort, no matter the day. I have looked beyond his words in articles and soundbites in videos to the real Jeter and these are some of the observations I have made.
Dick Groch, the Yankee scout that recruited Jeter and ultimately swayed him from attending the University of Michigan as a teenager said, "he's not going to Michigan, he's going to Cooperstown." I guess that's why when I wear my Twitter-won shirt "Cooper2town" at the week's end in Yankee Stadium and later at Sunday's finale in Fenway Park, I will feel proud of the baseball player and man Jeter has become. Wearing this shirt will be an honor and tribute to a person who has touched the lives of young and old. One of those lives is my own.
I believe in Jeter, because of what he has done for me as a person and lifelong fan. When I am dragging after a long run or having a bad day at work, I think of him. I look straight ahead at the picture I have in my office and I am encouraged to keep calm and focus.
When I hear stories about Jeter signing autographs randomly for fans or his pledge to his Turn 2 Foundation, I believe in the way he manages his life, with such precision, such finesse and polish. People have shared stories with me of Jeter buying them a drink in bar near Scranton, PA just for being a fan or stopping for them to cross the busy streets of Manhattan as he was driving to work to assume his position at shortstop under the lights at the Stadium.
I guess the best story I heard is when Jeter called home to his parents (probably on a pay phone from the stadium), to say that after committing a ridiculous number of errors his first year in the minors, maybe this just "isn't for him" and they should come pick him up. "Jeter's 1993 season for Class A Greensboro (North Carolina) turned into a defensive nightmare as the second-year pro made a South Atlantic League-record 56 errors at short," stated a Newsday article earlier in September. He turned his weakness into a strength, working with Brian Butterfield, Yankees minor league infield coordinator. He improved every day because of his level of effort and confidence in his ability to get better. "Every day was a good day with him. Just because of the way he was. He was so respectful. He worked hard to get better, extremely hard…I remember just a great work ethic, great aptitude, and during that time you could see him kind of jump a couple rungs each day. He just kept getting better," stated Butterfield in an article by Sweeney Murti this week.
Jeter was never afraid to push himself. He was never a self-defeatist. No, for Jeter, any weakness turned into a strength because he believed it could. From a young age of 15, "he just stuck out like a sore thumb. It’s like watching a great high school football running back or quarterback. There was him and there was everybody else. It isn’t even comparable," stated a University of Michigan former assistant coach and recruiter.
That's why I will wear #2, just like I have always worn #2. #2 stands for effort, respect and leadership. #2 means you aren't afraid to try your best or take criticism. #2 is humble and handsome. #2 is Derek Jeter. And he may not show all of the emotion of what these 20 years have meant to him in his interviews or field appearances, but I will. Derek Jeter belongs to us and his humble words, "I'll walk from here," will always be synonymous of what he has meant to the game of baseball, the city of New York and me, one small fan in a sea of fans across the globe.
--Suzie Pinstripe, BYB Senior Staff Writer
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