Derek Sanderson Jeter announced on Wednesday that 2014 would be his final year in pinstripes. This was not entirely a surprise given his wreck of a 2013 season and the fact that Father Time halts for no one. Even coming off a season, as a Yanks fan, which disappointed on the field, but provided an incredible chance to say farewell to two of our favorites, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, we shouldn’t have been surprised to learn of Jeter’s decision.
Yet, when confronted with the stark, black-and-white reality of his announcement, I was stunned. Still am.
I’ve been contemplating this posting for quite some time now, actually, trying to figure out how to eulogize his career, even if he’s got one season left. A few thoughts came to mind, so since I so rarely get to sit and craft a baseball-related sentence these days, I’ll give it a shot at summarizing a few of them. I’m quite sure, too, that more thoughts and stories and whatnot will come from myself and the team here over the course of the year and I welcome all of you to add in yours whenever you feel compelled.
My first thought, quite simply, was “I hate getting old.” It’s not that I’m getting old; we all are. It’s just that for those of us over, ahem, 35, Derek Jeter represents our post-adolescent fanhood. I was indoctrinated into Yankees fandom during the Bronx Zoo era, loving Thurman and Reggie, Goose and Gator, Sparky and Billy, Willie and Bucky. But I was a young kid then and while I still immortalize those guys, they were gone or done by the time I hit my adolescence. Like many, my interest in the game waned a bit in my late teens, despite my love for Don Mattingly, as college was more all-consuming (and Orange hoops, baby!). But then I finished college and baseball and I got reacquainted.
Suddenly there was Bernie and Jorge, a skinny Mo and some kid from NJ who moved to a city with a funny name in Michigan who always dreamed of being the shortstop for the New York Yankees. I mean, who DIDN’T want to do that?!? Except Jeter actual did it. And I was hooked. For the last 19 or so years, Derek and I have seen a lot together. I got married. He opted to stay single. I had kids. He opted to stay single. But darned near every day there was a game, #2 led my childhood team out onto the field, representing everything I imagined a ballplayer should look like, should act, should be.
Jeter did everything the right way, or what we were told the right way was, whatever that might be. His ability to keep out of the muck and mire of NYC rap sheets, to say plenty while saying absolutely nothing, to lead by example moreso than through histrionics, and winning almost the whole time was an honor to watch. Rookies (and some veterans) should be forced to study the way this guy has comported himself over the last two decades as the way to survive and thrive. To steal from Sinatra’s line, if Jeter can do it here, any player can do it anywhere else, if they only follow the rules.
Again, so it’s not that Jeter is going to retire, it’s that it officially ends that nebulous and tumultuous time called post-adolescence. Jeter and I are entering that other phase, no not “middle age” dammit, the one before it, whatever it’s called. That point in one’s life when you still think you can do everything your mind tells you to do but the body is a little less than willing. Eh, it happens and when the realization hits, it’s sad. Not sad in that a period of life is over because, hopefully, like me, you have so many reasons to be happy with what’s in front of you and what’s also ahead of you, also knowing what’s behind you was pretty darned neat, too. Just the passage of time and the end of that awesome phase of your life.
The other thought that struck me about the announcement was to try to frame Jeter in my perspectives of what he also represents. I began the natural debates on where he sits on the list of all-time greatest Yankees ever (answer: at the good table up front) and stopped because there will be ample time to dissect those nuances forever. Now’s not that time, for me, at least.
For me and those of you who are of a similar age range, Derek Jeter is my Mickey Mantle. My dad had The Mick. Every Bob Costas and Billy Crystal and former-Mayor Giuliani idolized that guy. Hell, I wore #7 as a kid because Mick was, well THE MICK. It’s not that I tired of hearing about Mantle from my dad, because I never will, but any attempt to bestow those same feelings towards him was me merely co-opting my father’s memories. Thurman Munson was gone too soon, as was Reggie, obviously for different reasons. Catfish and Sparky, Goose and Bucky “bleepin” Dent, Graig and Willie. Loved ‘em all but none were in that most precious inner circle of Yankee greatness.
Jeter is MY Mickey Mantle. Thankfully my boys have grown up knowing only #2 at shortstop and they will have to put me in my old age home with me telling and retelling stories about The Dive, The Flip, Mr. November, jump throws and other such mental memorabilia.
Like my father and Mantle, I too know that Jeter is not perfect, albeit for different reasons. I recognize his shortcomings on defense and all that jazz. I understand he never won an MVP or hit 30 home runs. But hot damn, could he ever play. There will be no smarter player to lace ‘em up, taking the extra base, being in the right positions, completely prepared to play at all times, totally aware of game situations. I’m not sure how many players will have earned as much respect by their opponents and other fans than Jeter. Willing to bet it’s a short list. For that, I’m sad that Jeter’s leaving, but thrilled that the guy I, we, put our faith into for so many years almost never failed to deliver for us. He made us proud to be fans and honored to have watched him, in good times and bad. He’s one of ours. He’s my Mantle and that won’t change.
I’m honestly not sure if I am prepared to face a baseball world without #2 in it, being announced by the late, great Bob Sheppard. Thankfully, we have all of 2014 to ponder it and enjoy seeing him once again lead the team onto the field.