I don’t know that I am emotionally prepared for this.
It’s been about six months since Mariano Rivera threw his last pitch as a Major League Baseball player – something I was lucky enough to see in person – and I still bubble up every time I watch the footage of his final games. You’d really think that I’d be over it at this point, but it gets me every single time and probably will for the foreseeable future. After all, David Cone threw his perfect game in 1999 and I still get a little choked up over that. I am far too invested in the Yankees.
I was already trying to prime myself for the reality that when baseball resumes in April that the Yankees will do so without Mo and Andy Pettitte, when the news came down yesterday: Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ shortstop, team captain and last remaining player of the Core Four, announced that 2014 would be his last season. He was giving us one more year and then he, too, would be gone. It would be the end of an era.
I can’t say that I am all that surprised that he is ready to call it quits; he has struggled since his postseason injury in 2012 to come back and play at full strength. It takes time to fully recuperate from an injury at any age, but in your late thirties your body just doesn’t bounce back like it used to (believe me – I know). While there were still some spectacular moments from Jeter in 2013 – his first at bat in his first game back from a lengthy stay on the DL, he hit a glorious home run – he spent most of the season sidelined, a spectator to the game that he loved so much. So the idea that 2014 might be his swan song has certainly entered my mind. His contract was up after this year, so this seemed like a natural stopping point.
I was not, however, expecting him to announce his retirement this early; for some reason, in my mind I always assumed that Jeter would wait until the season was almost over to make the formal announcement, even if he and the team already knew he wouldn’t be returning. He never seemed to be one for hoopla or for distraction, so while I know he will appreciate the farewell tour that I’m sure will great him throughout this season, I could imagine him trying to avoid the spectacle altogether and only announcing his intentions at the season came to a close. I saw it playing out where Jeter would say his was retiring before the last few home stands at Yankee Stadium, to give the fans a chance to say goodbye, and that would be it. Probably an overly simplistic approach – especially given how much money there is to be milked out of this final year for baseball – but that’s always how I imagined it. Despite how much I hate being wrong, I’m glad that this unfolded in a way that will allow Jeter to get the recognition and praise that he deserves. He has been the heart and soul of the Yankees and a great ambassador for the game of baseball. Like Mo, even fans who hate the Yankees respect Jeter. As people like to say, he plays the game the way that it is supposed to be played. He is the epitome of class.
Derek Jeter has never been my favorite Yankee; I say this not to diminish the deep-seeded affection and respect that I have for him as a player and a person, but because it is actually true. I tend to be a sucker for pitchers (see Mo and Pettitte) or some of the more colorful personalities on the team (see Swisher and O’Neill). I also learned early on that when you are a female sports fan, saying Jeter is your favorite player can be a liability; people assume that you only like him because he’s cute or because he is the only player that you know on the team. It is no coincidence that most of the “pink hat” fans out there are wearing Jeter shirts. I am actually in the minority on Jeter’s attractiveness; I can recognize that he’s a good looking guy, but he honestly doesn’t do much for me (I’m sure this admission will keep him up nights). I always thought Jason Giambi was cute though, so I really have no credibility on this issue.
But though he may not be the player that I love the most, he is the player that I have loved the longest. I didn’t fully fall in love with baseball and the Yankees until I went off to college, which just so happens to coincide with the emergence of Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte as the future of the team. Barring injury, Derek Jeter has been the starting shortstop for the entire duration of my Yankee fandom. As Posada, Mo and Pettitte retired, the blow was somehow softened by knowing that we still had The Captain. And now the time has come where that will soon no longer be the case. It makes me sad to think that in 2015, they will all be gone and that I’ll never hear Bob Sheppard’s voice regularly resonating in the Stadium as he announces Jeter’s turn at bat. Jeter’s departure may hit me the hardest of all, just because of all that it signifies. It’s the end of the (baseball) world as I know it and I don’t feel fine. Not at all.
But for now, I need to put my game face back on. Not only is there a season to be played (and hopefully a World Series championship to be in contention for), but there are tickets to be procured. I was tremendously lucky to be a part of some many seminal moments for Mariano’s retirement and I don’t want to miss out on Derek’s, so that means fighting it out to obtain the necessary tickets that are sure to be going for a premium. Tickets for what could be Jeter’s last regular season game at Fenway Park have already skyrocketed and individual game tickets haven’t even gone on sale yet. I’m going to have to save my pennies, find some presales and suck up to some Red Sox fans (oh – the humanity) to acquire the golden tickets that will get me in to be a part of history.
So before all the hoopla commences and the inevitable tears start to fall: thank you, Derek Jeter, for all the wonderful baseball memories. You have made the New York Yankees and the game of baseball better just by being a part of it. I hope you enjoy the ride as you take the field for one last season. See you in Cooperstown.