O Captain, My Captain

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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.

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Yankees Home Opener 2012

Baseball season doesn’t really feel official for me until I get to see my first game in person, preferably at Yankee Stadium. There is just something about being in that ballpark that just makes me ridiculously happy. This year I was lucky enough to score tickets to the Yankees home opener, something that I haven’t been able to do since 2004. Thankfully I have a pretty awesome boss who is also a baseball fan, so I skipped out on work Friday to make my first trip of 2012 down to the Bronx.

Play ball!

In a lot of ways, Yankee Stadium feels like home to me. After being there for the Big 4 metal concert in September (9 hours total) and then being there two nights in a row for the first game of the playoffs when the game had to be called because of rain (8 hours total), I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time wandering around the “House that George Built.” I pretty much know the location of all the different vendors on the two lower levels; if you need to know where you can get a Guinness, I’m your girl. I’m also pretty adept at navigating the crowds, which is impressive since I am so short.

Some thoughts on my day at the Stadium:

  • It always makes me so sad when a player retires in the off season and doesn’t get the proper send off from the fans. It may not be that important to them, but I feel like it is important for the fans. We need closure. So I was beyond thrilled that Jorge Posada threw out the ceremonial first pitch and gave us a chance to tell him how much his career in pinstripes meant to us. And seeing Jorge throwing the pitch to his father (Jorge Sr.) while his son (little Jorge) watched? Let’s just say it got pretty dusty in the stadium.
  • One way I’m pretty sure I am different from most baseball fans – I actually look forward every year to seeing what songs the players choose for their at-bat music. I like to think that the song selected gives us a little insight into their personality. Mark Teixeira appears to have retired “I Wanna Rock” by Twisted Sister with “It’s Tricky” by RUN DMC, neither of which fits my idea of him. But what literally had me laughing out loud was A-Rod’s choice. In the past he has used various Jay-Z songs, but when he stepped up to the plate this year, it was to Journey’s “Only the Young.” Oh A-Rod – you may have charmed me with this selection, but you have certainly given your many haters plenty of ammo.
  • A tank top in April was probably pushing my luck. I hated to cover up my beloved Paul O’Neill authentic jersey, but I finally gave in and had to put on a jacket. The woman sitting next to me was wrapped up in a blanket, which seemed like overkill. She obviously has never been tailgating in Buffalo in December.
  • I don’t know how they know, but the surest way to make sure a Yankee hits a home run is send me to the concession stand for fried pickles. Every time. At a bare minimum, I should be getting these pickles for free in return for the luck I bring them.
  • For my money, the best seats in the house are in section 104 behind Nick Swisher. Not only is it a great view *wink* but he is so incredibly fan friendly. He is endlessly entertaining and just seems so excited to be there. In an organization that is usually all business, it’s fun to have someone like him out there and just having a great time. I think someone could be content just watching his antics throughout the game.

Not a terrible thing to be staring at all game

  • Yankee fans have a reputation for being obnoxious; I won’t dispute that we have our moments. But we are also very loyal to former players who have moved on to other teams. Bobby Abreu, who now plays for the Angels, received a very nice ovation from the crowd. I’m seen this done for a lot of other returning players as well. I’m sure other fan bases do this as well, but it is always nice since our fandom is usually seen in a negative light.
  • Of course, they call booing “the Bronx cheer” for a reason. Albert Pujols was a recipient when his name was announced, I guess just because we don’t like him. We are complicated people.
  • I don’t want to get my hopes up, but they may have retired playing “Cotton Eyed Joe” during the 7th inning stretch. Thank God. That song is TERRIBLE. I was really mad when that followed them from the old stadium.
  • I am super bummed that I didn’t know that Kermit the Frog was at the game, sitting with Mayor Bloomberg. I don’t know exactly what I would have done about it, but I like to know these things.
  • This is what a baseball dork I am – after getting home from the game, I then watched the encore presentation of the game I just watched live just in case I missed anything and so I could hear what the guys in the booth had to say. This is how I found out about Kermit.
  • I’m a little embarrassed that I immediately noticed that they have a new game on the jumbotron in between innings where you have to guess a Yankee player based on their voice (with two other players apparently impersonating them). Even more depressing is the fact that I knew that this replaced the match game. I go to far too many games.
  • How omnipresent is Adele? They played one of her songs between innings. I never thought I’d  hear her powerful voice at a baseball game.
  • One of the happiest sounds in the world to me? Hearing Jon Sterling say “The Yankees win!” and the opening notes of Frank Sinatra belting out “New York, New York.” Thankfully I hear this more often than not – I believe I’ve only seen the Yankees lose 3 or 4 times at home in all the trips I’ve made to the stadium. On the road (I’ve seen the Yankees play in Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore and Toronto), I have a worse win/loss record but it is still over .500.

All in all, it was a great way to kick off the weekend and the season. I’m already looking forward to my next game; as of now I don’t have tickets again until July, but I’m sure I’ll sneak down a few more times before that. I just can’t help myself.

Play ball!