This past week, baseball witnessed what can only be called the end of an era. Derek Jeter, the captain of the New York Yankees for the past 17 years, took his last at bat on a professional baseball field. The face of the Yankees and the face of baseball, walked off the field to the applause of the whole crowd as they watched the celebrated number 2 disappear into the dugout one last time.
The thing is, all this occurred in Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, home of the most hostile crowd in baseball and the biggest rivals of their New York neighbours. That’s what Jeter meant to baseball. Whether you love the Yanks or hate them, you can have nothing but respect for that man, and throughout this season we witnessed that first hand.
Derek Jeter is the embodiment of a model athlete. He embraces and exudes the ethos of what it means to be a role model, and in a time where the world of sport is running dangerously low in athletes of good character (refer to my article in the previous edition of Woroni), perhaps one of the best in the business bids adieu to his throng of adoring fans.
Let’s take a moment to recognize just how good of a ballplayer Derek Jeter was. With five, yes five, World Series rings under his belt, the Yankees shortstop is leaving behind an amazing career, with statistics that guarantee him a spot in baseball’s hall of fame. A true “one club” ballplayer, Jeter was drafted by the Yankees in 1992 and has never looked back since. Over his 20 years with the organization he had a career batting average of .309 racking a total of 3,463 hits, which is surpassed by only five men in the history of the sport. Fondly known as “Mr November” by Yankees fans, his postseason stats tell you why. He has accumulated more games, more total bases, more runs scored and more total hits in MLB’s postseason than any other player to have graced the sport.
I, like many other aspiring baseball players, have grown up trying to emulate Derek Jeter. Countless hours spent in the backyard practicing his trademark “jumping throw” from shortstop to first. Trying my best to mimic his pre-batting routine with the expectation that if I did it right, I too could hit like the Captain. I personally witnessed his accumulation of World Series titles, one after the other, but most importantly, I, like every other person out there, saw the way that he carried himself on and off the diamond.
Jeter has never been caught in the news headlines for the wrong reasons. When the players he shared a field with were being investigated for domestic abuse, substance abuse, drink driving, physical assault, sexual assault as well as perjury (to name a few), their captain has never had a bad word uttered about him published. In a world where social media dominated, and athletes and celebrities let the world know their every move, Derek Jeter has never once tweeted or instagrammed a thing. His infrequent posts on Facebook are all related to his Turn 2 Foundation, established to help children and teenagers adopt a healthy lifestyle and avoid drugs and alcohol.
I know what the naysayers may be thinking right about now. Something along the lines of, “all this hype, he’s just an athlete,” I’m guessing. However, his actions and character has played influence to the lives of many. He was an integral part of the 2001 Yankee team to instill hope and help the countless New Yorkers struggling to cope with the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks. In a time where spirits were down, he gave them something to cheer about. In a “polarized” America, Jeter has received spine-tingling ovations from the east coast all the way to the west. If you’re still unconvinced at his influence, consider the 50 year old woman from Baltimore who sat in a wheelchair waiting for Jeter’s autograph a mere 24 hours after receiving a grim diagnosis from her doctor. Why? “He never gave up,” she stated, Jeter is her inspiration, and in a way, her medicine.
In his final game at Yankee Stadium, the game was tied 5-5 with the Baltimore Orioles in the bottom of the ninth. There was one out and one man on base when all of a sudden, 50,000 people simultaneously rose from their seats in applause. Chants began to fill the stadium “DE-REK JE-TER” as the announcer lets the fans know, perhaps for the last time, that their captain was up to bat. It was all set for a Hollywood finish, and with the first pitch, Jeter swings his bat and connects with the ball driving it between first and second base, past the infielders. The man on base rounds third and slides home as the crowd becomes deafening. Jeter jumps in the air, pure ecstasy etched through his face as he realized he hit a walk-off single in his last career at bat in New York.
After the celebrations, he walked back onto the field to the ovation of the still standing crowd. He waves and thanks the fans as he makes his way to the hallowed dirt between second and third base, the place he called home for 20 years. He crouches down, making the sign of the cross, praying in silence. As he walks off the field, the crowd cheer, but it’s an eerie atmosphere. A sad, bitter look takes hold in people’s eyes as they knew they were witnessing Jeter in the famed pinstripes for the last time. Baseball was sending off a legend of the game. Farewell Derek Jeter, thank you for the memories. #RE2PECT