“One night and one more time, Thanks for the memories.”
-Fallout Boy, “Thnks Fr Th Mmrs”
In sports, each generation is defined by an individual you want to remember; someone you were young enough to adore, immature enough to dislike, and old enough to respect as you were able to follow their career over the span of a couple decades. We’re not speaking of the players looking to provide fans with shock value, egotistical claims that may or may not be true, and prima donna failures and success. We don’t want to be forced to remember stars for enhancing their performance, abusing spouses, getting arrested for less than they probably should have, lying, cheating, drinking way too much, drugging (that’s a weird way to put it), or just being an attention-grabbing idiot. We want to remember a ballplayer for being a ballplayer; for going out there and doing his job at an exceptional level day in and day out without complaining, fighting, or upsetting an entire city with poorly timed phrases instigated by the media. We want to remember what he did for the game, his actions on the field, and what he didn’t do off the field.
Derek Jeter. The Captain. The modern day Yankee Great. The current New York baseball icon announced his retirement at the beginning of his 2014 campaign. It’s hard to imagine that a player, in this era, for the New York Yankees could ever be mentioned in the same sentence with the likes of Mickey Mantle (not Mickey Mouse), Joe DiMaggio (not just Marilyn Monroe’s squeeze), Babe Ruth (not the candy bar), Lou Gehrig (you poured ice water over your head for him this year), Yogi Berra (not the cartoon), and Reggie Jackson (Mr. October), but just like Mariano Rivera did last year, Derek Jeter proved history has no concrete ending, and there’s no limitation to greatness.
To prove so, Jeter finished first in eight statistical categories in Yankee history: Plate appearances, at bats, hits, singles, doubles, stolen bases, games played, and strikeouts (man, I shouldn’t have mentioned that one). In addition, he earned five gold glove awards, fourteen invitations to the All-Star game, a lifetime .310 batting average, 3,465 hits (sixth all time), and one World Series Most Valuable Player within the five championships he won, and the two he lost (we can’t be all positive here). That’s really not that great if you think about it. Only like 14% of the time he was a World Series MVP.
His prominence was respected, and his life was admired. He wasn’t a jerk, and he kept his personal life to himself despite how much everyone wanted to know about him in that aspect. Baseball was his job, and his life was his life. Fans could dislike him all they wanted to for the sole fact that he was a great ballplayer and could tear down the hopes of other franchises with clutch performances, but in the end, it was all classy as each team provided the Yankee captain with parting gifts on his farewell tour. The Baltimore Orioles gave him crabs.
Being a Baltimore fan, I’ve endured 20 years of his greatness. Though his career is one that will be rarely matched, and his persona was even more respected, there’s one moment that will always stay with me: his infamous “home run” against Orioles in ALCS 1996.
Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium (September 25th, 2014) was perfect. Nick Markakis and Alejandra De Aza proved it wasn’t going to be easy as they lead off the game with back to back homeruns to give Baltimore an early 2-0 lead. In scripted fashion, Jeter doubled home the first Yankee run of the game, and eventually scored the second to tie the game in the bottom of the first inning. The game was controlled by pitching until the seventh inning when the Captain himself hit a slow roller to his counterpart at shortstop, J.J. Hardy. The usually sure-handed Hardy approached the ball off balance which caused an erred throw to second base, allowing two Yankees to score. New York would add one more run that inning to extend their lead to 5-2. Everything seemed to be in place in the top of the ninth as camera flashes flickered across the stands and an emotional Jeter tried hard to hold in his tears at shortstop. However, it was like the Orioles didn’t believe this is how it should end. A two-run homer by Adam Jones, followed by a solo shot by Steve Pearce two batters later tied the game at five with one half of an inning left, Jeter batting third. Jose Pirela led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, and was replaced on the base path by Antoan Richardson, a faster runner. Brett Gardner laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Richardson to second base, setting the stage for the famed number two in pinstripes. Jeter made contact with the first pitch delivered by Baltimore Reliever, Evan Meek. The hit was driven to the opposite side of the diamond, sailing away from the outstretched glove of the diving Pearce at first base. Richardson rounded third base on the single and slid safely into home head first right before Markasis’ throw reached the plate. Yankees win 6-5. Derek Jeter: the hero, just one more time.
It may not have seemed perfect statistically or from a fairy tale standpoint where they would have won the World Series on that hit, but that would have been too cliché. It was perfect because it was against a rival, against a division winner, and he used his trademark style of hitting to win the game during his last swing of the bat in the stadium where he won so many times before.
Just one more time against Baltimore, Derek. Just one more time the opposite way, Mr. Jeter. Just one more storybook ending, Mr. November. Just one more tip of the hat, Captain.
This is why we love sports.