There hasn’t been a day in my life that Derek Jeter hasn’t been a New York Yankee. Being a true class act and having the uncanny ability to come through in the clutch have defined Jeter’s career.
Everyone in attendance (myself included), watching on TV, and playing in the pinstripes at Yankee Stadium last Thursday knew it was going to be an emotional game. But nobody could ever foresee the fairy tale ending that the night would have.
The Yankees were up three runs in the ninth inning over the Baltimore Orioles; Yankee closer David Robertson was in to end Jeter’s final game at home. But Robertson gave up three runs, making it a tie game; the Yankees would have to win in walk off fashion if they wanted the victory.
Jeter was due up third in the bottom of the ninth. Rookie Jose Pirella came up first and singled, Brett Gardner bunted Pirella over, and Jeter came up with the winning run on second. I was thinking there was no way Jeter could do it with all of the emotion that had to be running through his body. I was dead wrong. On the first pitch he saw he used that so called “Jeterian” swing and hit a rocket past Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce and won the game for the Yankees.
The Stadium exploded with cheers and grown men were crying. Nobody could believe it. Jeter was embraced by his teammates and friends of old were waiting for him by the dugout. Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Gerald Williams, Tino Martinez and Mariano Rivera were there to greet him and congratulate him on one hell of a game and a 20-year Hall of Fame career.
Jeter had to hold back his emotions all game long. “It was sort of an out of body experience,” Jeter said. “It was a weird range of emotions. I was just trying not to cry.”
Yankee fans have so much love and respect for the Yankee Captain. Jeter was instrumental in winning five championships (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2009). Everyday he gave his all on the field.
Jeter is known for his postseason heroics and he had his share of jaw-dropping moments.
In the 2001 ALDS in Oakland the Yankees were facing elimination from the playoffs. The Yankees were clinging to 1-0 lead when Oakland’s Terrence Long hit a ball down the right field line with Jeremy Giambi on first base. Yankee right fielder Shane Spencer picked up the ball and over threw both cutoff men as Giambi headed home. Jeter came out of nowhere to grab the ball and flip it to Yankees catcher Jorge Posada who tagged out Giambi. Jeter wasn’t supposed to be there but as he said his baseball instincts took over.
In the same postseason the Yankees were facing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series. In game five, on Oct. 31, the Yankees were down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth, and with two outs Tino Martinez hit a two-run homer to tie the game at three. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th Jeter was due up, the game still tied at three. New York and the nation where still hurting from 9/11 and because of that tragic day, the season and postseason were pushed back.
As Jeter was walking to the plate the clock struck midnight; this was now the first MLB game ever played in the month of November. On the first pitch, Jeter drove the ball into the right field seats for a walk-off homer, garnering him the nickname “Mr. November” and tying the series at 2-2.
Jeter is a postseason legend. He is one of the best at performing in the most important games, as he is the all-time leader in postseason hits (200), doubles (32), total bases (302) and games played (158).
Jeter always played hard whether it was the playoffs or a regular season game and had his fair share of amazing moments in the regular season as well.
On July 1, 2004, the Yankees were playing the Boston Red Sox. In the top of the 12th with the game tied at 3-3, the Red Sox had base runners on second and third with two outs. Boston’s Trot Nixon hit a slicing popup down the left field line. Jeter ran out full speed, caught the popup and was forced to dive head first into the stands to stop himself. Jeter came out of the stands with his face bloodied..
Jeter ended the inning but had to be taken out of the game. Jeter said something to head trainer Gene Monahan that embodies his love of the game: “I’m playing tomorrow.”
On July 10, 2011 the Captain further increased his legendary status. Jeter entered the day with 2,998 hits, two away from the historic 3,000 hit plateau. In his first at-bat against the Tampa Bay Rays’ David Price, Jeter singled to left field. In the bottom of the third he came up against Price and hit a 420-foot homer deep to left field, making him 28th player in MLB history with 3000 hits. Jeter ended that day going 5-for-5 and got the game-winning hit in the eighth inning.
After achieving so much in his long career, Sunday, Sept. 28 was Jeter’s last game. Chills ran up my spine as Jeter took his final walk off a Major League Baseball field at Fenway Park. He had done what he has done his whole career in his final at-bat: He got the job done. Jeter hit a high chopper down the third base line with Ichiro Suzuki on third base. Suzuki scored and Jeter hustled down the first base line for an infield single. It was emblematic of Jeter’s whole career; he has always been a hustler.
Jeter will retire with 3,465 hits, sixth all-time in the long history of baseball.
Jeter has achieved so much more than just being a baseball player. He has been the face of not only the Yankees, but the game of baseball throughout his career. In an era of baseball where steroids were a huge part of the game and tarnished some of the greats, Jeter stood clear of that, played the game right, and was a role model for future generations of ballplayers.
Off the field Jeter embraced the position of being a role model by starting his Turn 2 Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to get kids to turn away from drugs and alcohol and ‘turn 2’ healthy lifestyles.
Jeter’s parents instilled these life lessons to stay away from drugs and alcohol in their son and their daughter Sharlee. Jeter’s father, Charles Jeter, is a substance abuse counselor with a Ph.D. in sociology and knows what drugs and alcohol can do to a person’s body.
The Jeters also made their children sign contracts in which it was laid out what the parents expected of their children. If those expectations were not met things would be taken away from Derek and Sharlee. One of those things that could have been taken away from Derek was baseball. Derek never failed to meet the expectations his parents set out for him because he loved the game and couldn’t go without it.
One word that Jeter’s parents wouldn’t let him use was ‘can’t’. I guess that’s why Derek has always played so hard, believing that ‘can’t’ was not an option.
In his interview after his final game at Yankee Stadium, Jeter said, “The fans were chanting, ‘Thank you Derek,’ and I thought to myself, thank you for what? I’m just trying to do my job.”
Mr. Jeter, what the other Yankee fans and myself were thanking you for was being a model of consistency, for being that guy to look up to, for being a first class gentleman on and off the field, for giving your all day in and day out. You have been an inspiration to so many, including myself.
Mr. Jeter, you have given everything you have for the last 20 years. So thank you for all the memories, for being the reason I want to be a sports writer, and being my role model—thank you from the bottom of my heart.