With the captain of arguably the most hated team in sports retiring, you would think I would be happy to see him go. However, when I first heard about Derek Jeter announcing that 2014 would be his final season, I felt an emptiness in the pit in my stomach. Why? I hate the Yankees, and loved watching them suffer an injury plagued season last year in which they missed the playoffs. It felt even better to watch the “evil empire” go back to their classic ways of spending an absurd amount of money, half a billion to be exact, on free agents after watching Boston take home the championship.
With that being said, the respect I have had growing up for Derek Jeter both as a player, and more so as a person, is something I will always cherish. In today’s sports, many would argue that there are not many players a parent would feel comfortable for their child to look up to. Derek Jeter breaks that mold by exemplifying the character all athletes should show.
Growing up a sports fan in Buffalo, I’ve become all too familiar with losing when it comes to my favorite teams. The Sabres and Bills did a great job paving the way for that. To root for a different NFL or NHL team, however, seemed like blasphemy, and I still feel the same way today. However when it came to the game of baseball, I was given a glorious opportunity.
With no MLB team in Buffalo, I had the option of rooting for any team I wanted. I could have rooted for any team I wanted. Unfortunately for me, my loyalty got in the way of my head, and I went with my dad’s favorite team, the New York Mets. Looking back, the Mets fit right in to the general criteria for my favorite sports teams throughout my life: a laughable entity in their sport, underachieving, and able to build up your belief just enough for it to physically hurt when they fail at the most crucial of times.
As a Mets fan I learned early on that there are some essential aspects if you want to be considered a die hard. You have to take small moments with you forever, since large moments are few and far between. That is why the names Benny Agbayani and Endy Chavez will always hold a special place in my heart; while names like Timo Perez, Armando Benitez, and Aaron Heilman, will always make my blood boil. Then there is the main rule in being a Mets fan: hate the New York Yankees.
This rule was the first I learned and it has been quite easy to carry out growing up. I’ve always been a fan of upsets, but rooting against the Bronx Bombers has been quite easy when you look at players such as Roger “Roid Rage” Clemens, and Alex “Insert Any Insult You Want Here” Rodriguez, as mainstays in pinstripes over the last two decades. Over that time, however, there has been one constant. One player that even the biggest Yankee hater cannot speak ill of. One player that on and off the field has been a prime example of what you want your player to be, and who you would want your son or daughter to look up to. That player, of course, is Jeter.
The on-field accomplishments are endless. The all-time hits leader in Yankees history, he has now surpassed over 3,300 hits, and who was really surprised when his 3000th was a home run? The virtual lock for the hall of fame was just 20 years old when he became the face of the Yankees turnaround back to glory, right after a shortened season that saw the World Series canceled. Baseball was in a tough state, the Yankees were in a tough state, and then Derek Jeter became their shortstop. The recipient of the 1996 rookie of the year, Jeter has proved throughout his career he is a well balanced baseball player. He has received 5 golden gloves, and 5 Silver slugger awards for the shortstop position, along with being the runner up to the American League batting champion twice. He has also won the Hank Aaron award twice as the league’s best hitter as voted on by the media.
I would be remiss to not mention his play in the clutch, specifically in the World Series, which has dubbed him the nickname, “Mr. November.” Jeter has hit .321 in 38 World Series games, to go along with his 5 rings in 7 series appearances. He was the MVP of the 2000 World Series where he batted .409 with two home runs, while not committing an error against, of course, the Mets.
Then there are the plays that separate Jeter from just any other great player. Be it his signature running jump throw that every kid playing shortstop in a pickup baseball game tries at least once, or his toe tap batting stance, he has created an aura about him that will carry on for generations. Jeter’s memorable plays that will be run on highlight films for years. His clutch home runs in the 2000 and 2001 World Series games will go hand in hand with the infamous “Jeffrey Maier” home run ball in the 1996 playoffs vs. the Orioles. His running cutoff against the Oakland Athletics will go down as one of the best plays in postseason history, but his dive in the stands against the Red Sox will stick out most to me. It was not in the playoffs, it was simply in extra innings in July against his arch rival and nothing, not even the seats that his face smashed into causing him to leave the game bloody, was going to prevent him from making that catch. That is the kind of player Derek Jeter will go down in history as. He was named the 11th captain of the Yankees for a reason; he is always in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.
This carries to his off the field behavior as well. Some may argue that character in today’s sports is lost. Athletes seem to be money driven with free agency and contracts at their craziest levels and continuing to grow. Between hold outs, arrests, gun charges, and PED accusations, a lot of athletes today are not shining examples of good character to those who spend money and take time to watch them. A professor here at SUNY Cortland, Dr. Eric Malmberg, teaches character as, “the sum of all virtues.” The virtues that I feel are lacking most in today’s sports are three of which I feel Jeter has portrayed remarkably throughout his career: loyalty, self-discipline, and respect.
The loyalty Derek Jeter has shown is obvious even to the most common fan. The man was drafted 6th overall by the Yankees, came up through the organization, and performed admirably since day one. While it helped he played for the Yankees so he was able to be paid handsomely, he could have jumped ship to a different organization a few years ago, but didn’t. Deep down no one thought he would sign elsewhere, because that is not a Derek Jeter thing to do. However, seeing players like Jonny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury jump ship to the Yankees from the Red Sox for more money really makes you respect the fact that Jeter was able to play on one team his entire career. What is even more impressive is that in those 2,602 regular season games that he has donned the pinstripes, the Yankees have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs in just one game. Think about that. Seriously, read that sentence over and think about that.
Self-discipline is considered by Dr. Malmberg to be the most important virtue since it can branch off into many others, and I tend to agree. Baseball turned its head on PED users in the mid-1990s into the 2000s which caused offensive numbers to skyrocket. It put pressure on every baseball player to join in, or be looked at as inferior. Sure, it made the game more exciting, but it was cheating and every player knew it. While more and more names come out of those who have been convicted of PED use (even in today’s game ala Ryan Braun), it is considered fact by most that Derek Jeter played clean for his entire career. He did not get caught up in the gaudy numbers and fancy contracts that were the result of such actions, or use the excuse of needing to come back from injury faster like longtime teammate Andy Pettitte, he just played his game. Because he worked harder in the weight and film rooms, and can go into Cooperstown with his head held high knowing that he did it the right way, not the easy way.
Staying away from PEDs also ties in with respect. His respect for the game of baseball and the respect he had for the New York Yankees goes much farther than just PEDs. He was once quoted as saying, “I want to be remembered as someone who had a lot of respect for the game, his teammates and opponents, and I want to be remembered as a winner. But most importantly I want to be remembered as a Yankee.” To me this sums up what makes Derek Jeter great. He wanted to be the best, but did not want to cheat to do so. He wanted to be the best, but in terms of wins not individual stats. And finally, he wanted to be the best, but it was more important for him to be a Yankee.
If I would have been raised a Yankees fan, like my brother Justin for instance, my view on Jeter may come from a different perspective. It would not be of upmost respect, but more of a heroism stance. Heck, my brother didn’t bother settling down until his early 30s because as he put it, “When Derek Jeter settles down, I’ll settle down.” My brother has since married and now has a beautiful baby girl, but at the time he was dead serious, and that is what I love about Jeter. That a sports figure can hold that much power over someone that he has not, and most likely will not, ever meet. That is a sports figure people should look up to.
As we all enjoy his last season, certain to be filled with pre-game ceremonies wherever he goes like fellow Yankee and baseball legend Mariano Rivera endured during last season, try to just take a minute and soak in what you see. Not so much at his at bats or when fielding a double play ball, but look closely to when they show a glimpse of him on the bench. Look closely to how he is always in the right spot when it comes to cut offs or backing up a play. As he takes the field for his last opening day, take time to appreciate Derek Jeter, a truly one of a kind person. Let’s just hope he’s not the last of his kind.