Happy Birthday, Derek Jeter!

(Originally published 6/26/12 - I reworked it and edited it to add stuff about late 2012 - 2013. Enjoy - SG)

This is going to sound a little silly but I like to tell people that Derek Jeter and I grew up together. Sure, he was in Michigan while I was growing up in a suburb of New York but we are the same age - exactly two months apart - and we did, in a sense, grow up together. It just happened a little later on in life.

And I proudly watched as the "kid" who was the same age as me became a New York Yankee legend.

***

On Opening Day 1996, a young shortstop was inserted into the starting lineup for the New York Yankees. The Yankees hadn't had a lot of luck with the shortstop position in recent years and this rookie was only in the lineup because Tony Fernandez, who was supposed to be the Opening Day shortstop, was injured.

After a home run and a jump throw to nail a runner at first helped lead the Yankees to victory, on a blustery day in Cleveland, a legend was born.

Not bad for someone who regarded as the fourth best young shortstop in the mid-1990s. Alex Rodriguez of Seattle, Nomar Garciaparra of Boston and Rey Ordonez of the Mets were the other players in a crop of young shortstops that were expected to outlast and outperform Jeter. A couple of them may have outhit Jeter in some categories - power numbers especially - but no one, not even the biggest Yankee haters, can deny that Jeter has remained consistent throughout this career.

Jeter went on to have a stand out rookie season in 1996, finishing with .314 batting average, 10 home runs, 104 runs scored, and 78 RBI. But he wasn't done. He batted .361 in the 1996 postseason and helped lead the Yankees to their first World Championship since 1978.

Now, I won't go year by year and recall every detail of Derek Jeter's career because, well, that would take me all day and most blog readers don't have that attention span. I know I don't. So we'll just revisit the highlights.

His biggest individual accomplishment, so far, is to reach - and surpass - the 3,000 hit plateau.

Derek Jeter is the only Yankee player to ever reach 3,000. Think about that for a second. This is the team of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle. In fact, Jeter became the Yankees all time hit leader, passing Gehrig's mark of 2,721 hits on September 11, 2009. The hit that broke the Yankees record was a single. His 3,000th hit was something better.

On July 9, 2011, the Yankees played their AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays. It was a sunny, warm Saturday afternoon which was nice to see considering the game the night before was rained out.

This was to be the Yankees last home series before the All-Star Break and would be Jeter's last chance to get hit #3000 in front of the home crowd. They would not be disappointed.

In his second at bat of the day, Jeter deposited a 3-2 offering from Tampa's David Price into the left field bleachers for the milestone hit. He became only the second player in history to hit a home run for his 3000th hit- his former teammate Wade Boggs is the other one.

Jeter also became the second player to finish the game in which he hit his 3000th hit perfect at the plate. Jeter was 5-5 and he wound up getting what ended up being the game winning hit in the bottom of the eighth inning.

As they people always seem to say, "You couldn't have scripted it any better."

***

Derek Jeter has appeared in the playoffs nearly every year he's been in the Majors. The only exception was 2008. Because of this, he holds a lot of playoff records and has a .351 BA in the World Series.

In 2000, he won the World Series MVP and batted .409 against the New York Mets. He hit two home runs - one led off Game Four at Shea Stadium - hit two doubles and a triple later in that same Game Four. His performance helped the Yankees earn their fourth World Series title in five years and third in a row.

In 2001, he made a play that's regarded as one of the top plays in playoff history. The Yankees were in the Division Series for the seventh time in seven years but found themselves in a pretty precarious position, down 0-2 heading to Oakland to take on the A's and avoid being ousted from the playoffs.

It was Game Three and the Yankees were hanging on to a slim 1-0 lead. Terrance Long hit a double off Mike Mussina with Jeremy Giambi on first base. What happened next is now known as "The Flip Play." After the ball was hit to right field, Shane Spencer threw it in, missing the cutoff man Tino Martinez and as the ball made its way down the line, Jeter seemingly came out of nowhere, flipped the ball to Jorge Posada and he tagged Giambi on his leg.

The play ended the inning, preserved the Yankees' lead and seemed to turn the series around. The Yankees won that series in five games.

Later on that same year, in the 2001 World Series, Jeter earned a new moniker.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, baseball was delayed a week and because of that, the playoffs started later in the Fall. And barring a sweep by either team appearing in the World Series that year, there would, for the first time ever, be November baseball.

On the night of October 31, 2001, Game Four was played at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees were down two games to one heading into the game and going into the ninth inning, it looked like the series would be 3-1 in favor of their opponents, the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In a piece I wrote in 2011 commemorating the 10th anniversary of that fateful night in Yankees history, this is how I described the final two innings of that game:

When Derek Jeter made the first out of the inning I shook my head and I said, “They have to win this game. They HAVE TO!” to no one in particular or maybe I was talking to God.

Paul O’Neill followed with a squibber to left. Is that the term? Look, it was barely a hit. Kind of a bloop and kind of an oops! Anyway, having him on first made things a little better, until Bernie Williams struck out on a ball down around his damn feet. Kim had a funky delivery and the Yankee hitters were not getting good wood on the ball or in Williams’s case, any wood on the ball.

Next up, Tino Martinez who up to that point had an 0fer in the World Series and who was only 7-47 for the whole postseason. I remember actually saying, “Do something damn it!!” Then I got nervous and was afraid to look again so I put my sweater coat collar up to my eyes. My brother said, “Don’t be a wuss! The game isn’t over.” And as soon as he finished saying it Kim threw the pitch.

As the ball traveled toward the right field bleachers it was like slow motion. It took until Martinez got to second base for me to comprehend what I had seen. Tino Martinez just tied the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. I started screaming and jumping up and down like a maniac. I joined in with the other nearly 56,0000 people. My best friend was especially excited because Tino Martinez was her favorite player. And my brother in the midst of the chaos yelled, “I told you it wasn’t over!!!”

The Yankees had new life.

And it almost seemed like they could actually win it in the bottom of the ninth when Jorge Posada walked and David Justice singled but Shane Spencer struck out to end the inning.

Mariano Rivera came in to pitch the top of the tenth and induced three ground outs. (Sigh. Sorry I’m thinking what transpired a few days later...)

When the Yankees came up in the bottom of the tenth, Kim got Scott Brosius and Alfonso Soriano to fly out. As Derek Jeter stepped up to the plate I also yelled at him to do something. He hadn’t been the same since he dove into the stands during Game 5 of the Division Series and whatever he did to himself seemed to adversely affect his hitting.

I remember my brother pointing at the clock and we all remarked on how it was after midnight, that there was a full moon and that it was offcially November. Baseball in November? Full moon? Yeah, holy cow. That’s a recipe for something, dare I say, magical?

Jeter worked the count full and then the improbable happened. He hit a fly ball toward right field and it carried and carried until it left the park. Mr. November was born.

“Whoomp, There It Is!” started blaring on the loud speakers and the Stadium went nuts.

And just like that, the Yankees went from being on the brink of a 3-1 deficit to a 2-2 series tie.

***

It's June 26, 2013 and we still have not seen Derek Jeter play in the regular season. After suffering a broken ankle in the first game of the American League Championship Series against Detroit last fall, Jeter had to have surgery to repair the fracture. He worked his way back, joined the team for Spring Training in Tampa and ultimately re-injured the ankle. Because of that, Jeter has not set foot onto the Yankee Stadium grass for anything other than batting practice and long toss. Because of that, this year is a bit different and very strange for Yankee fans.

Of course, Jeter's not the only regular who has missed significant amounts of playing time, but he's the one with the longest tenure and the one who is the face of the franchise.

Here are his career numbers, so far:

Batting average   .313
Hits   3,304
Runs   1,868
Doubles   524
Home runs   255
Runs batted in   1,254

Not too shabby.

So Happy 39th birthday, Derek Jeter. Hope to see you on field soon, in uniform, holding your right hand out to let the ump know you're not quite ready to have a pitch thrown yet.