Last week, five-time World Series champion and fourteen-time All-Star Derek Jeter retired from his twenty-year baseball career as shortstop with the New York Yankees. Being drafted directly out of high school, Jeter wasted no time in building his success, being selected as “Rookie of the Year” at the end of his first active season. Famously known as “Captain Clutch” and “Mr. November”, Jeter is most reputable for his outstanding consistency in the playoffs and impressive finish as number six on the all-time career hits list. Keeping a nearly spotless track record, and valuing consistency and team effort, he has been named as one of the best players of his generation.
But to only look at his stats is to disregard half of his excellence. Jeter made it very clear, even from the early seasons of his career, that he not only honors excellence, but he honors respectability as well. Part of Jeter’s reputation was his competency and composure in the most stressful of situations. His facial expressions and attitude rarely changed after making remarkable plays, hit homeruns, or successfully stole bases. The only time he would visibly celebrate would be after another player made a fantastic play, or if he made a play that drastically altered (or ended) the game.
Many athletes who had the opportunity to play with him commented on his heightened self-awareness, both on and off the field. In every situation on the field, Jeter seemed too immersed in the game and too intensely focused on his actions to have any type of ego.
As a child, I grew up watching Jeter play. Watching him come up to bat was often the highlight of the game for me, a chorus of “Jetes!” making its way around the living room. My father likes reminiscing about the game when a man in the stadium “O-ver ra-ted!” when Jeter was up to bat, with Jeter immediately crushing a home run into right field. To me, I couldn’t care less if Jeter had a clear track record and impeccable reputation. The way he respected the game was enough for me.
Back in 2010, I had the surreal experience of seeing him play. In sporting a sign saying, “You gotta be a cheater to beat Derek Jeter”, I soon became disgruntled by the man behind me that asked if I could put it down when his son, who had already witnessed every single one of the Yankee’s home games that season, couldn’t see. Rationally, I immediately despised the pair. Don’t ruin this moment for me, kid, unless you want to give me a reason to ruin yours. Later in the game, the man bought me a Yankee banner to make up for it, and I was immediately flooded with guilt.
I loved Jeter, idolized him even. For me, he was the marketing face of the 2009 World Series win, the silhouette fighting all of the bitter backlash I received from Red Sox fans at school. There was no argument for me. I didn’t need to dispute whether or not Jeter was the most impressive player of his time, or that the Yankees were the most successful team in the league. Both were convincing enough for me. Loss was not in Jeter’s vocabulary, so it wasn’t in mine either.
Now, an era has ended, and it may take until next season to fully realize that Jeter has left the Yankees for a retirement lasting the rest of his life. I don’t want to make the argument that Jeter is a saint, but his ability to articulate how important it was to maintain his reputation and level of respect made a profound impact on my life. Reflecting back on Jeter, I will forever remember being told by fourteen year old boys that my loyalty to my team was illegitimate due to my gender, and then twisting that ‘illegitimacy’ into a source of empowerment, forever remembering jumping on the couch during playoff games, thus forever remembering my childhood. Thank you, Captain. I tip my hat to you, always.