Whenever we think of our favorite Derek Jeter memory, we immediately consider his contributions on the field. We think of ‘The Flip Play’, Jeter diving into the stands, his 3,000th hit, or his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium resulting in a walk-off hit.
All of those memories are nice, none of Jeter’s on the field contributions were my favorite.
It’s no secret to anyone that my current favorite Yankee is Brett Gardner. But before scrappy little Gardner had the top spot, my former ‘current’ favorite was Jeter.
And I was not simply an average fan of No.2.
Anything with Jeter’s name, I had to have it. And whatever I asked for, I received. My father once bought me the 2000 World Series media guide because Jeter was in it. And for my 10th birthday, my father bought me my first Jeter ‘shirtsey’, even if it looked more like a dress at the time. As a young kid, I would go to Yankees games with my father with hopes of getting a glimpse of Jeter. I even remembered crying because Jeter was on the disabled list with a dislocated shoulder. (It was 2003, so you have to cut me some slack. I didn’t know players actually got hurt playing baseball!)
Over the years, Jeter was a fixture on the Yankees, and honestly, I thought Jeter would be on the team forever.
However, Jeter shocked the world when he announced his retirement prior to the 2014 season. I knew all good things had to come to an end, but I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to the Yankee captain.
But as fate would have it, I was left with a personal memento prior to Jeter riding off into the sunset.
During Jeter’s final season, he would park his cars at a Lower West Side parking garage where my father happened to work. And since my father was well aware of how big of a fan I was, he wanted me to meet the Yankees captain. So on a Saturday morning in early April, I took the train to the parking garage with hopes of finally meeting my favorite player. To say I was excited was an understatement; I was playing out how the potential meeting would go in my head, and I wanted everything to be perfect.
Unfortunately, the encounter didn’t go as planned…
I was busy helping my father answer some phone calls while he went to retrieve one of the many cars in the garage when suddenly I heard him yell, “Delia, Jeter’s coming!”
Hearing those words caused me to look up from my notepad, and at that moment, I had never felt more unprepared. You only get to meet your idols once in a lifetime, and here I was about to meet the captain of the Yankees. Apparently, the thought of meeting Jeter frightened me, and instead of going out front to greet him, I ducked into a nearby office. After my father and Jeter made small talk, and Jeter was on his way, my father went into the office and saw me sitting in the chair with a dejected look on my face. He could tell I was disappointed for not going out front to say hello.
“Why did you hide from Jeter? I thought you wanted to meet him.” My father questioned.
I couldn’t think of a decent excuse. Dare I say I was intimidated by the thought of meeting him? Or that I was embarrassed because what if he didn’t like me as a fan? Finally, I settled with, “I was nervous.”
My father left it at that, but deep down I was crushed. I let my anxiety get the best of me, and in the end, I didn’t get to meet my favorite Yankee of all-time.
I simply blew my chance.
The ill-fated episode played in my mind over the next few days, even though I wished it would stop. All I wanted was to meet Jeter, and I had the perfect opportunity. But I only had myself to blame for letting my anxiety get the best of me in a crucial moment. Unfortunately, I had to go back to the scene of where it all began; the parking garage.
That morning, I went to pick up my father from work before I went to the library to do some writing myself. But judging by the look on my father’s face, there was something he wanted to tell me. I just wasn’t sure if it was good or bad news.
Instead of saying the words, all he did was point to the table. That was when I saw a square Rawlings baseball box.
“What’s this?” I couldn’t help but ask. It was quite clear there was a baseball inside, but I wasn’t sure why my father was giving it to me. My very brief baseball career started and ended when I was nine. And it was during my ill-fated baseball career I realized I struck out more times than Chris Carter ever could.
“Open the box.” My father said. I took the box from the table and opened it, and when I removed the ball from it’s cardboard casing, it was quite clear it wasn’t just your average baseball. Just above the seams, and in neat cursive, the ball said:
At the bottom, it was signed by none other than Jeter himself. In that moment, the memory of me hiding from Jeter was the farthest thing from my mind. I had a signed Derek Jeter baseball, which is something most kids only dream of getting.
“How did you get this?” I sounded breathless while holding the ball up for emphasis.
“He dropped his car off late last night and gave me the baseball,” My father replied. “He just needed the name of the girl hiding in the office.”
Wait, Derek Jeter saw me hiding in the office? I wasn’t sure whether to feel embarrassed or touched that he actually acknowledged my existence. I didn’t know what to say, so I hugged my father and thanked him for getting me the baseball.
“Oh, you can thank Jeter yourself.”
Eventually, I did. It was brief since he was on his way to the stadium, but it was easily one of the best moments of my life. My Jeter ball currently sits in a baseball case next to a signed Gardner baseball, and a minor-league baseball I received during a Trenton Thunder game. And every time I look at it, I think to myself how lucky I was to have met a legend.
He’ll officially be enshrined in Monument Park tonight, and the prestigious honor couldn’t have happened to a better New York icon.
But thinking back to the day I briefly met him, the best part of the encounter wasn’t thanking him for getting a signed baseball. It was my crossover Yankees purse getting the seal of approval by The Captain.
Between you and me, I may never use another purse for as long as I live.