I always wondered what life would be like when my favorite childhood players would all retire.
My parents and grandparents and all other older family members tell stories about players from their childhood, who made a big impact on them, and served as role models for them. They ranged from Reggie Jackson to Mickey Mantle, from Wayne Gretzky to Bobby Orr, no matter the sport.
One of those players I get to tell my kids about is Derek Jeter.
I remember my first Yankees game growing up, July 18, 1999, at the old Stadium. I remember the date, because the game was historic, with not a single Montreal Expos batter reaching base, with David Cone throwing a perfect game. But among the names I knew leaving the ballpark, was Derek Jeter.
He was all my friends and I ever talked about during the 1998-2000 three-peat. Everyone wanted to be like Jeter, making those jump-throws and hitting the ball all over the field. He became the household name for a success story since day one in pinstripes. Growing up surrounded by other Yankees fans my age, we all loved Jeter.
Over the years, I’ve attended many other Yankees games, at both the old and new Stadium. Jeter had played in most of them, and some times he delivered his usual clutch single or home run every now and again to spark the team. I watched his heroics on TV nearly all the time. I remember where I was when he dove into the stands against the Red Sox, and I remember where I was when he deposited hit number 3,000 in the left field bleachers.
Jeter is the last one left of the Core Four, a group of players including Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada, who were the backbone of the Yankees from 1996-2010, teammates for 15 years (save Pettitte’s 3 seasons in Houston). I grew up watching those 4 guys and knowing they’d be there to save the day. I never gave thought to reality that they were human too, and they wouldn’t play forever. I never thought I’d see the day where they won’t be there to bring the Yankees a win.
When Jeter announced that he’s ending his illustrious career after this season, or whatever he makes of it at least, it hit me, that it’s an end of an era. An era with a standard of excellence that’s just ludicrously high. An era where the expectation is World Series or bust every year. Every year the Yankees didn’t make a title run, it was a disappointment. No one can live through those standards for nearly 20 years, especially in New York, where it’s always “what have you done for me lately”? No one, except for Jeter.
There have been other players who have contributed to this dynasty of excellence, too many to list here. Every one of those guys had their moments in the spotlight. Yet, with many of those guys, if they start to falter, the Yankees faithful wouldn’t think twice about turning on them. Think about Alex Rodriguez. After his trade to the Yankees, he had MVP caliber seasons, and helped them win a World Series in 2009. But every other year, he was viewed as a goat, because he didn’t come through when they needed him to, or got into trouble off the field, and subsequently booed mercilessly.
Jeter was one of the few that could do no wrong in New York. No matter what he did, the fans just shrugged it off and said, “It’s ok, he’ll get the next one.” It takes a special player for that to happen. Guys like that come once in a lifetime.
He says he wants to settle down and live a normal life after his first-ballot Hall of Fame career is wrapped up. He’s always been quiet and to himself on a personal level. He doesn’t want to bask in the glory of being one of the best ever for one of the most iconic names in sports. He’ll get his day, when the Yankees unveil his #2 monument in Monument Park. He’ll get standing ovations wherever he goes, and it might turn into a bit of a farewell tour, much like Mariano Rivera’s last year. But that’s not the Jeter way.
Yankees fans, like myself, are going down memory lane recently, thinking about everything he’s done for us and the city of New York. It’s hard to sum everything up. But when he’s gone, and the Yankees have someone other than Jeter at shortstop regularly, we’ll be missing him like hell.
I’m still kind of curious what it’s like to recant tales of my favorite athletes growing up. At least I know I’ll be able to tell over stories about a legend of the Yankees, of the game of baseball, and the entire sports universe. Thank you Derek Jeter, for everything you’ve done, and everything still to come.