Julian Routh | News Editor
I was seven years old when I first saw Derek Jeter play.
It was the day I fell in love with baseball: July 11, 2002, when the Yankees played the Indians at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. That night, the 28-year-old shortstop went 2-3 with an RBI and a run scored; a classic Jeter stat line.
My dad was beside me, and I’ll never know exactly what he said to me when the Captain stepped to the plate, but I’m sure it went something like this:
“Son, enjoy this moment.”
I enjoyed it, as well as the other dozen or so times I saw Jeter play in person since then. I enjoyed watching the Yankees on television before bed in middle school, keeping my eyes open wide enough to see the Captain drive in a run when the game was on the line. I enjoyed October 2009, when Number Two batted .407 en route to winning the World Series and securing his fifth championship ring.
But most of all, I enjoyed bonding with my dad over something so simple: an icon in pinstripes who represented everything good about baseball.
After a season-long farewell tour around the baseball world, Jeter played in his final game Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park in Boston, where he hit an RBI infield single in the last at-bat of his career.
Days earlier, on Sept. 25, the Captain said goodbye to Yankee Stadium in grand fashion with a walk-off single against the Baltimore Orioles, followed by one last momentous walk to shortstop, the position he played for 20 years.
During those two decades, Jeter became baseball’s ambassador. He stood for hard work and integrity in a league plagued by rampant steroid use. He valued humility, while teammate Alex Rodriguez let his ego destroy his career. He embodied consistency, in an organization that has cycled through more free agents than any other franchise in baseball since 2000.
Jeter managed to be a celebrity in the most scrutinizing media market in the world, yet never got into trouble. That’s the thing about Number Two: he was a megastar, but it wasn’t important to him. The only thing that was important to him was winning baseball games.
The Captain’s timely hitting won the Yankees plenty of games, especially in the playoffs. There was the solo homerun to right field in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series against the Orioles, which landed in the overreaching mitt of 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier. The Yankees went on to win the World Series that year, their first title since 1978.
There was the walk off homerun in the 10th inning of Game 4 of the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks, as the clock passed midnight turning October into November. This gave Jeter the title, “Mr. November.”
It’s moments like these that define Jeter’s career in pinstripes, but is he the greatest Yankee to ever play? Statistically, probably not. He never hit more than 25 homeruns in a season, and only drove in more than 100 runs once. But an argument could be made that his 3,465 hits, the most in Yankees history, at least put him in the conversation.
Still, stats aren’t what made Derek Jeter special. It was the way he carried himself on and off the field. It was the way he became exactly what he wanted to be when he was a kid: the shortstop for the New York Yankees. It was the way he turned a struggling Yankee organization into one of the greatest dynasties in the history of sports.
And because of that, Jeter was the greatest leader to ever wear Yankee blue.
You may have heard your grandfather tell you about what it was like to watch Mickey Mantle play. Or Joe DiMaggio, or Lou Gehrig.
I watched Derek Jeter, and I enjoyed it.