It was the perfect ending to a perfect career.
With a runner on second and the game tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, Derek Jeter provided us with one of the most memorable moments of his career, and reminded us why baseball is such a great sport, as he drove in the winning run to beat the Orioles 5-4 in what would be his last at bat at Yankee Stadium.
In an era in sports where it is rare to see a player remain on one team for his whole career, Jeter has been wearing the pin stripes for two decades. That’s my entire life. Sports are very ego-driven today, where almost every player has to find the most lucrative contract, or complains about a manager and gets kicked out of town.
Go back just one generation in baseball, and this was not so common. Cornerstones of franchises remained loyal to their team throughout their success. Mike Schimdt, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr., to name a few. Think about all four major North American sports now, and you might be able to think of a handful of guys who have spent their entire careers with one organization since 2000.
That is part of what made Jeter’s career so special to me. Of course, there was all that he accomplished on and off the field.
For every miracle that Jeter delivered on the field, he gave back twice as much to the community.
In 1996, Jeter founded Turn 2, a charity organization which aims to help teenagers avoid using drugs and alcohol. He also, aside from his countless commercials, endorsements and television shows, contributed to the website Weplay, focused on getting kids involved in sports.
He was a true professional and model citizen.
Never would you hear of Jeter getting arrested for a DUI, or any other type of incident, and in a time where steroids and performance enhancing drugs have ravaged the sport, Jeter’s name has remained clean through all 20 years of his career. He is a player kids could and still can truly look up to; no parent would be upset if their child told them that Jeter was their role model.
I fondly remember when I was young and played in Little League, there were countless teams that I was involved with, either playing or assistant coaching. Every team was unique in its own way, but they all shared one similarity: All 12 kids on the team would line up at shortstop and try to mimic Jeter’s classic backhanded leaping throw to first. Oh, and everyone would fight over who got to wear number two.
100 years from now, people are going to be talking about Jeter that same way that people now talk about Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, Ted Williams and so on. He was just that good. Sometimes it can be hard to grasp since those aforementioned players are held in such a high light, but if you compare numbers, Jeter is right there with them.
There is no denying that the NFL, and football in general, has stolen much of the spotlight from baseball the past decade. Football has rapidly become the most popular sport in America. However, Jeter reflected why baseball is really America’s national pastime.
It was an honor to be able to grow up and see a guy like Jeter play because there will never be another player like him. Sure, he was not the most talented player in the world, but it was what he did on the field combined with his image off of it. It was how he played the game, and what the game meant to him.
On behalf of myself, and thousands of others my age, even as a non New York Yankees fan, I would like to say thank you Derek Jeter. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the game of baseball. Thank you for reminding me that baseball was the first sport I fell in love with, and showing me why the game, when played the right way, is so beautiful.