I knew this day was coming, but I still wasn’t prepared.
On Wednesday, the captain of the New York Yankees Derek Jeter announced that the 2014 season would be his final, ending one of the greatest careers in MLB history. The face of the Yankees for almost two decades will walk away from the game he loves and will be the final player from the World Series dynasty still playing, cutting all ties from the Yankees golden years. For me its the final connection to the Yankees I grew up with.
Growing up in the 90’s, Derek Jeter was the Yankees for me. Watching him along with Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, creating what would come to be known as the “Core Four”, they became synonymous with championships for me. Winning 4 championships out of 5 years and making it back to the fall classic in 2001 and 2003 set a early example in all of their young careers making them young leaders on the Yankees. But even with older players and conflicting egos over the years, everyone knew that Jeter was their leader. He just had that aurora around him from day one. The type of player everyone he competed with and against had to respect and work towards becoming like. A constant professional. And he had the toughest market to play in wrapped around his finger.
Looking on my Facebook timeline and my Twitter feed on Wednesday, all I could see was my friends and family paying tribute to Jeter by bringing up old stories and moments of his that they hold dear to there hearts. Most of them are around the ages of 20-30 so we don’t know the Yankees without Derek Jeter. We all grew up idolizing Derek, wanting to wear the number 2 in little league and play shortstop just like him. He taught us to play the game he loved the right way when others cheated and lied their way to the top.
One of the most impressive things about Derek Jeter to me is how he never let his ego get too out of control and never got into any controversy or trouble. Especially when some of his teammates are Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and Jason Giambi. He has always been viewed as the face of baseball the way it should be played. Every game, every at bat he would give 100%, always hustling to first base whether it is into the gap in left center or a short dribbler to third.
Derek will go into the hall with one of the more impressive resumes in MLB history. He’s a five time World Series champion, winning the World Series MVP in 2000, a 13 time All-Star. He’s also won the Silver Slugger Award five times, the Gold Glove Award five times, and the Hank Aaron Award twice. He won the AL Rookie of the Year in 1996 and the Roberto Clemente Award in 2009. He is the all time leader for hits at the shortstop position in MLB history, he is the Yankees’ all-time career leader in hits (3,316), games played (2,602), stolen bases (348), and at bats (10,614). He also is the only Yankee to reach the 3,000 hit club and was the Yankees 14th captain in their storied history. Quite the career indeed.
As productive as he was on the field, he was just as an impact off the field serving as one of the best ambassadors for the game during the Steroid era, arguably one of the darkest periods in any professional sport in some time. Serving as the face of baseball for years and one of the few consistently great players who remained clean during the games ramped drug abuse among players. Jeter created the Turn 2 Foundation, a charitable organization, in 1996, to help children and teenagers avoid drug and alcohol addiction.
Derek Jeter has been my favorite player for as long as I’ve watched baseball. Watching him and the Yankees play in the playoffs year after year, racking up championships and making mesmerizing plays seemingly every game has been a privilege for me. For not just Yankee fans but for all baseball fans, make sure you really watch every at bat, every across the body jump throw, every moment Derek gives us this year and fully enjoy it because we only have a small number of them left.
Moments like his walk off home run in game 4 of the 2001 World Series against Arizona crowning him “Mr. November”, or like the flip play against Oakland in the 2001 ALDS, or Derek diving into the crowd to catch a foul ball against Boston. Derek has given millions of baseball fans countless memories they can take with them the rest of their lives and showed us how the game of baseball was suppose to be played.
Simply put, Derek Jeter is everything a Yankee and a ball player should be.