The World According To Jeter

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    Updated: February 15, 2014
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    It’s been fort-seven fifty-two seventy-four hours and I still don’t know what to say. 

    I saw it coming but I was still blindsided.  I want it to happen and yet I’m not ready for it. It’s still a year away but the reality is hitting now.

    2014 is going to be the last year the New York Yankees have Derek Jeter on their roster. Quite simply, this isn’t something I’ve had to think about for a very long time. I was thirteen years old when The Man Who Would Be Captain became the everyday shortstop for my beloved New York Yankees, a team that had only made it to the playoffs once in the entirety of my life at that point. Time moves differently at that age. 

    When the only shortstops you’ve know are Alvaro Espinoza, Andy Stankiewicz, Spike Owen, Randy Velarde, Mike Gallego, and an extremely past his prime Tony Fernandez, you start to believe the 6 is a throwaway position. And when you read pieces like Sports Illustrated’s 1991 cover feature “What Happened to the Yankees?” you start to believe you’ll never witness your team win a championship in your lifetime.

    It all seems funny eighteen glorious years later, especially given the outcome. I’m lucky that I’m able to laugh at myself and the fears I had. Perspective comes with age, reflection, and time – all things Jeter had in abundance last season; which is important, because I think it’s how we got to this place.

    This conversation started as early as 2010 when Jeter hit an anemic .270 and it looked like it was all crashing down around us.  I’m not much for advanced statistics, but that year he posted the lowest WAR of his every-day playing career to that point and the number should come as no surprise to anyone.

    His bat had slowed, his range was shriveling, and his legs weren’t quite what they used to be. He was still able to grind out those infield hits and punch balls to the opposite field in that Jeterian way, but it was happening with much less frequency.

    When he hit free agency that offseason, Jeter put his terms to the Yankees.  The top brass didn’t like them and told him he could test the open market if he in turn was unhappy with their counter offer. 

    Despite the diminishing skills, my friends and I were devastated. He’d become such a constant in our lives that we couldn’t picture the team without him – more importantly, we couldn’t picture another team with him.

    Who knows what led to him coming back.  Maybe the offers weren’t there for a 36-year-old contact-hitter whose average was steadily dropping.  Maybe he thought long and hard and realized his legacy was with the team that had brought him up.  I’ll never know and frankly I don’t want to. All I know is he came back – in every way.

    In 2011 he collected his 3,000th hit with a stadium-shaking homer off Cy Young runner-up David Price. He was back to hitting .297 and though his WAR dipped again nobody cared – he looked like the Jeter we remembered (especially when he got that 3,000th monkey off his back). 2012 represented an even greater return to form, seeing him hit .316 and leading the majors in hits while leading his team back to the ALCS.

    I was there for what happened next.

    The morning of October 13th, 2012 I woke up and decided I was going to game number 1 of the ALCS, come hell or high water. A buddy of mine and I bought tickets on Stub Hub and I was in the stands for my first Yankees playoff game. 

    I’ve never heard a stadium get so loud as when Raul Ibanez followed Ichiro’s two-run homer in the ninth with his own two-run homer to tie the game.  It was like the entire Bronx was shaking. 

    And I’ve never heard a stadium go as silent as when Jeter dropped to the ground like he’d been shot by a sniper while trying to field a routine ground ball. I couldn’t even watch the game after that. My buddy will attest to the fact that I grimly stared at the left-field foul pole for the remainder of the evening, too numb to do anything but blink.

    Jeter managed seventeen games last year, and even that seems like a miracle. Through it all, he watched one of his close friends and great competitors, Mariano Rivera, walk away from the sport he loved still at the top of his game.  In every stadium they cheered him and showered him with praise, and in every stadium he’d eventually trot out to the mound and send the opposing hitters back to their dugouts with shattered bats and broken dreams. 

    I’ve got to believe that it was a moment of clarity for Jeter.  If he was going to leave, it wouldn’t be with a steadily declining average, or a slow, sad shift to the outfield – it was going to be on his terms.  One last season where he could play balls-out and screw the consequences. 

    There will be no next year – do it all while you can. Every great deserves to go out the way Mo did, and Jeter’s no different.  One more year – one more time around the horn.

    Some people were surprised by the way he made the announcement, but after I got over my knee-jerk reaction, it’s completely in line with the man we’ve come to understand.  There was no media-circus, no dog and pony show, no press conference. 

    He made a short, eloquent statement where he thanked everyone for their support, made his decision final, and didn’t have to answer any questions. Many people thought that doing it on Facebook wasn’t the way to go, but it allowed him to spread the message to the people he really wanted to tell – the fans. 

    It’s tough not to argue that we’re largely rooting for laundry. But Jeter, more than any other player I’ve followed in any sport, always made me feel like I was a part of his experience. 

    He never really said anything of substance in an interview, but when he said, “we played hard,” or, “we lost a tough one today,” you never felt that he was only speaking for the other twenty-four men on the team, but for everyone who lives and dies with the Yankees. 

    Maybe it’s all conjecture, but I have to believe he recognizes the game was for more than just him. He knows to give it his all every day, regardless of if you were watching him for the first time or the last time. He wants to earn that win for himself, but to give it to the team, the Boss, the fans. He hasn’t just been one of the Yankees, he has been the Yankees, and he’s wanted everyone along for the ride.

    Which is why I already feel the loss. Because in the world according to Jeter, we all wear the pinstripes.

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    One Comment

    1. Mike Kahl

      February 16, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      Loved this article. It captures nicely what many of us feel. Jeter has been a constant in the lives of my children, who haven’t yet experienced the loss of a childhood hero. Those of us who are older have but that still doesn’t make it any easier. We may well not see his like again. Injury, free agency, and sometimes just lousy luck conspire against it. I’m glad we had the opportunity to watch him all these years.

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