After a whole season of great fanfare, Derek Jeter retired from baseball today, as the DH in a meaningless regular season game played at Fenway Park. In his final play, he bounced a ball off the plate and hustled down the line for an infield hit, where he was removed for a pinch-runner and jogged off the field for the last time as professional ballplayer. In many ways, it was an anti-climatic ending for the game’s most famous shortstop- a man synonymous with Yankee pinstripes and October baseball. Yet it was still very much Jeterian- a hustle play to help his team score a run. And with that came the end of an era, and a childhood.
My first season following baseball was 1998. In fact, my first memory is of a Yankees inter-league game against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees won 9-2 behind a complete game from David Cone who had 11 strikeouts. I vividly remember the 1998 World Series. I remember Paul O’Neil making a great catch at the wall in the first inning of Game 2, as El Duque went on to get the win in a 9-3 blowout. I remember the Yankees late inning comeback off Trevor Hoffman in Game 3. And I remember the World Series victory cementing their status as the greatest team of all-time.
Derek Jeter hit .324/.384/.481/.379/128+ that season with one of his few plus defensive seasons and a 6.2 fWAR. It was one of many more brilliant seasons to come for the future Yankees captain. As the years went on, I grew to be a bigger and bigger baseball and Yankees fan. There was 1999 when the Yankees swept the Braves to become back-to-back champs. That was Jeter’s best professional season- a season that should have earned him MVP honors. In 2000 there was the famous Subway Series. Jeter hit the first pitch of Game 4 for a home run. My Little League team also won the championship that year.
In 2001, 9/11 happened. My dad was in one of the smaller World Trade buildings that morning. All I remember is coming home to watch Spongebob and playing with a neighborhood friend. That postseason Jeter made three of his most famous plays as the Yankees went on a miracle run to the World Series. In coming back from a 2-0 hole in the ALDS to the 101 win Oakland Athletics, there was the “flip play” in Game 3, and the tumble into the stands in Game 5 (Terrence Long was the batter on both plays). As the Yankees made quick work of the 116 win Seattle Mariners in the ALCS, Derek Jeter was the man who ended Game 4 of the World Series, with his Mr. November walk-off home run. I still get get choked up watching Game 4 and Game 5 of that World Series. They were the two greatest games ever played in the long, vast history of professional baseball.
2002 marked the first time the Yankees missed the World Series since 1997- a new experience for me. My Little League team lost the championship in crushing fashion that year as well. But come 2003, Aaron Boone walked-off the Boston Red Sox and there was Little League redemption as I ended my LL career with two bases clearing triples in the title game. In June Derek Jeter was named the 14th captain in Yankees history.
By 2004 I was in middle school. I had graduated to 50-70 baseball and got the wonderful chance to participate in a Cooperstown tournament. Little did I know my eyesight was rapidly deteriorating as I barely could hit the ball. The Yankees allowed the Red Sox to come back from 3-0 as our bitter enemies claimed their first World Series in 86 years. Yet 2004 is also the season Jeter bloodied his face diving for a ball in extra innings against the Red Sox. John Flaherty later won the game for the Yankees with a deep fly ball to left field.
In 2005 I got glasses and could finally hit a baseball again. Jeter had another strong year and won the Gold Glove, but the Yankees continued their postseason woes with an ugly ALDS against the Angels. 2006 was another strong year for the Captain. He notched the highest BA of his career (.343) and was the only Yankee hitter to show up in an ALDS loss to the Tigers- an ALDS better known for Joe Torre batting Alex Rodriguez 8th. That happened to be the same year I graduated from middle school. It was also my best summer of travel ball. After being rejected from the A squad, because of my height for a first baseman, I hit over .500 while displaying the superb defense that kept a short kid like me at the position for so long. When we played the A team at the end of the season, I collected two hits. Their two 1b, both measuring over 6 feet as 14 year old kids, continued their season of misery. The redemption was awesome.
By 2007 I made it out to Yankee Stadium for the first time. It was August 30th and the Yankees completed a three game sweep of the Boston Red Sox. Robbie Cano, my favorite Yankee, hit two first pitch homers off Curt Schilling. Chien-Ming Wang tossed 6 2/3 of no-hit ball while Terry Francona was thrown out to the delight of the crowd. But so was Joba Chamberlain, the rookie sensation, for throwing at Kevin Youkilis. Derek Jeter was 4-4 in the 5-0 win.
2008 saw the Yankees miss the postseason for the first time since I started watching baseball; it was also the year I stopped playing summer ball. I turned 17 and celebrated it at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees beat post-season bound Tampa Bay, 8-4. Derek Jeter tied the Yankee Stadium hit record, a home run off then rookie David Price, who was making his ML debut. Carl Pavano also made his last career start for the Yankees- one of 26 for them in four seasons. He left with an injury in the sixth inning. Two weeks later, the lights had closed on “Old” Yankee Stadium.
2009 was my first season on varsity and I was the lead-off hitter no less. Including the pre-season, I started the year 10-17 with 7 doubles. It was shaping up to be my best season. Until I separated my shoulder diving for a ball in right field. The Yankees also won 103 games that year. A-Rod went on a post-season tear, as the Yankees dominated the Twins and Angels en route to the World Series. There, they beat the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies. Game 2 featured throwback “Who’s Your Daddy?” chants directed at Pedro Martinez. Game 4 featured Johnny Damon’s heads up steal of third base. Game 6 featured Hideki Matsui mashing Pedro as the Yankees won their 27th World Series. For as much as I love the 1998 Yankees for sentimental reasons, the 2009 Yankees will always be “my team” because it was the only true World Series I could really appreciate and understand. In 2000, the last time the Yankees won it, I was 9. Now I was 18. Derek Jeter was 26 in 2000 and had a 3.7 fWAR. In 2009 he was 35 and had a 6.8 fWAR.
In 2010 I made the decision to attend Rutgers University, to pursue a degree in Sport Management. I knew my baseball career was coming to an end, but I wanted to work in the game somehow. I struggled for most of my final season on varsity. So too, did Derek Jeter that season. It was the first below average offensive season of his career.
2011 was my second full decade on Planet Earth. But just several days before I turned 20, I lost my grandma, one of the most special people in my life. She was the biggest Yankee fan I knew and it was her house where I remember watching the Yankees as a kid. She would cheer on Derek “Cheero” in her Italian accent, boo “that bum” Joe Torre, and reminisce about Mickey Mantle. Derek Jeter notched his 3000th hit this season, a home run off David Price, on an afternoon that saw him go 5-5 at the Stadium.
I turned 21 in 2012 and moved off-campus. Rutgers almost made the Orange Bowl, but had a second half collapse against Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals. Derek Jeter had a bounce back season, putting up his first 3.0 fWAR season since 2009. In 2013, I got my first position in the sports field. An Event and Operations internship with the Rutgers Athletic Department. Derek Jeter missed most of the season with an ankle injury as the Yankees missed the postseason.
2014 saw me land my first position in baseball- a dream come true- as a promotions intern with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. I graduated in May with the highest GPA in my major. I went to Phoenix, LA (and saw Kershaw pitch), and met some amazing people while working in the LV. I partied on a NYC rooftop for the 4th of July, attended the Brooklyn Cyclone’s Seinfeld Night, and landed my first, real, full-time job with the Frisco RoughRiders and moved my entire life to a Dallas suburb. It also saw my favorite player, Robinson Cano, spurn the Yankees for the Seattle Mariners of all teams. It saw the Yankees miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since I’ve been watching baseball. And it saw Derek Jeter struggle for the first time in his career.
So when Derek Jeter walked-off the Baltimore Orioles with his final Yankee Stadium at-bat and when Derek Jeter crossed the white lines for the last time today at Fenway, it was much more than his retirement to me. It was the end of my childhood. Ever since I can remember, Derek Jeter was the shortstop of my favorite team in my favorite pastime. Players changed, life happened. Yet he was the one constant. Now I’m 23, work full time, pay bills, and live on my own. And Derek Jeter is no longer the shortstop of the New York Yankees.
The rest of Derek Jeter’s life has just begun. So has mine.