My first vivid memory of postseason baseball was the first pitch of Game 4 in the 2000 World Series. Derek Jeter sent Bobby Jones’ delivery deep into the New York night air for a home run, putting the Yankees up 1-0.
Jeter would go on to win the World Series MVP as the New York Yankees would defeat the New York Mets in five games, capturing their fourth championship in five years.
As his career culminated in pinstripes on Thursday night, he once again rose to the occasion, roping a double off the wall in his first at bat and then sending in the game winning run in the ninth inning with a single.
His hands rose in triumph and it looked as if he had surprised himself, despite all of his previous heroics. How could all of this be unscripted?
It was never the glitz and glamour of New York that engrossed Jeter, he wanted to win games while playing shortstop for the New York Yankees.
But even as his bat speed slowed and his range at shortstop diminished, his desire to win never ceased.
He left Yankee Stadium as the winningest player in baseball history, with a record of 1619-1110. Who sits behind him at numbers two and three? Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.
Jeter set the table for the Yankee lineup that reached the playoffs 17 of his 20 seasons. Batting leadoff or second, Jeter collected 3,465 hits ranking him sixth all time while scoring 1923 runs good for tenth all time. He was table setter and catalyst for a Yankee offense that hauled in five World Championships.
Now, he joins the table of Yankee greats.
At the age of 40 Jeter struggled during his farewell tour, hitting just .256, well below his career average of .309. But he continued to compete and was driven by winning.
“I never said I didn’t think I could play anymore,” Jeter said. “This is the time for me to call it a career after this season. Sometimes things are difficult. Sometimes they come a little bit easier, not easy, but they come a little bit easier at times. You’ve got to continue to battle. This is a game of adjustments.”
Now, Jeter must adjust to a life without baseball. As he circled around the infield on Thursday night, he was uncomfortable saying farewell.
In big moments, the game seemed to slow down for Jeter, but now the game had stopped.
A man that we had watched for two decades who seemed impenetrable and unstoppable was filled full of emotions.
But, Jeter did not grieve in solemn sadness as he walked off the field for the final time, but we did.
He was our shortstop, he was our hero, and he was our face of baseball.
“When I was kid, as I reminisced the other day, my favorite player was Joe DiMaggio,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said. “What Joe D meant to my generation, Derek has meant to his. I’ve been overjoyed to see Derek join the heroes of my youth — Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and all the other greats. He is a great champion in every way.”
In an era of baseball where doing things the right way was not always the case, Jeter became the gold standard.
He wasn’t drawn into performance enhancing drugs despite playing in the steroid era. While Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, and Alex Rodriguez among others put up astronomical numbers, Jeter was the model of consistency.
According to Lee Sinins’ Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, Jeter is the only player in baseball history with 11 seasons in which he batted over .300 and finished with double digit home runs and steals.
Additionally, Jeter’s personal life remained clean and scandal free. Other teammates and athletes around professional sports weren’t as fortunate.
He was class personified and that is why so many people of this generation gravitated towards him. As children searched for role models, what parents wouldn’t want their sons and daughters looking up to Derek Jeter?
In 20 seasons and 2746 games, Jeter was never ejected from a game and was flawless in the public spotlight.
As a young boy, Jeter entered into his parent’s bedroom and told them he would play shortstop for the New York Yankees.
14 All Star games later and holding numerous Yankee career records, Jeter clearly came through on his statement.
As teams honored him throughout the year, it became evident that it was an honor for us to watch him play.
Jeter helped the MLB recover from the steroid era and was the ambassador of baseball. This generation needed someone to send off, someone to grasp, someone to say goodbye to.
Derek Jeter never asked to be the perfect baseball player, but he was.