Everyone in their life remembers their first baseball trinket. It could have been a signed baseball by your favorite player, it could have been a baseball glove or it could have been the chance to meet your childhood hero. Mine was simply a Yankees t-shirt.
I remember my father gave me an over sized t-shirt when I was 10-years-old, the shirt going just below my knees and the ‘short’ sleeves going past my elbows. I remember glancing at the interlocking ‘NY’ in awe as my father told me the shirt I was wearing was special. He told me the player’s name written on the back of my shirt had already done amazing things and he wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. The player on the back of my t-shirt…was Derek Jeter.
In a way, Derek Jeter was one of the reasons I became a Yankees fan. Jeter had this poise and confidence that simply couldn’t be taught. He was truly a leader and it was evident when he would sacrifice his body for the game. I’ll never forget my reaction to Derek Jeter’s dive into the stands against the Boston Red Sox; I didn’t think much of it at first, but when I saw his face was beaten and bruised, I started to cry. I remembered asking my father why Jeter did what he did, why he went into the stands to get the baseball and why he risked his entire body for a game in July.
My father simply told me, “Because he loves baseball and baseball loves him back.”
I never thought of it that way before. I was young, so I didn’t understand how baseball could love. I admit I took the phrase literally. But it wasn’t until I realized baseball could love a person back. The more Jeter played, the more the fans and his fellow opponents respected him, and it seemed wherever the Yankees were, Jeter was too.
Writing about Mariano Rivera‘s final season and watching a Hall of Fame closer ride off into the sunset was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. Rivera was a fixture in the Yankees bullpen for 19 seasons and I didn’t think the Yankees could handle losing another player. Unfortunately, Derek Jeter announced his retirement on a cold February afternoon via Facebook and it was probably one of the most surprising things I had read all winter. It was more surprising than reading about Robinson Cano heading off to the Seattle Mariners after a long tenure with the Bronx Bombers or the Yankees outlasting and outspending everyone in baseball to acquire Masahiro Tanaka.
It was at that moment I realized my childhood was almost over. There would be no number two leading the team onto the field before the game. There would be no ‘Derek Jeter’ chant during roll call. Come 2015, there would be no Derek Jeter. It’s the end of an era, it’s the end of my childhood and it’s the beginning of uncertainty.
However, Jeter gave Yankees fans the greatest gift in the world; he gave us joy and laughter. He gave so much that it was time the fans and baseball gave back to him. The game would never be the same, but if there was one thing I learned from Jeter, it’s to present yourself with class, to put every ounce of love into everything you do, and most of all, that nothing lasts forever.
All that’s left to do is to say goodbye to Derek Jeter, but when it’s time, I guarantee you that there won’t be a dry in the house once he steps off the field for the last time.