“A Yankee! A five-tool player. Will be a ML star!” Though these words have probably been said countless times before about New York Yankees retiring shortstop, Derek Jeter, Yankees scout Dick Groch said them first in 1992. While scouting Jeter in Kalamazoo, Michigan, it would seem that he knew something the rest of the world didn’t. On August 28th, Groch saw Jeter play in person for the last time. Even then, after two decades of baseball, Groch recalled him saying, “Thanks for what you’ve done,” only to be met with the old scout’s reply, “I didn’t do anything but tell the truth.”
Looking back, it’s hardly an exaggeration to title the most recent season ‘Derek Jeter’ with a subtitle ‘The Rest of Baseball Happenings.’ As the Yankees made their rounds throughout the country, the All-Star and Future Hall of Fame shortstop received a wide range of farewell perks. Gifts were as odd as Jeter themed cowboy boots from the Astros and a No. 2 Yankees kayak from the Rays.
Some more sentimental gestures included generous donations to Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation, a program promoting an active and drug-free childhood, the No. 2 from the Cub’s manual scoreboard, and two seats from the old Tiger’s stadium.
Headlines plastered papers and sports channels; “Yankees honor Derek Jeter as an icon of his generation,” “Core Four reunite in Derek Jeter’s last home opener,” “Jeter not ready to ring down the curtain,” and the list goes on. There wasn’t a week that went by where Derek Jeter wasn’t mentioned in one way or another. On and off the field, he was everywhere. Many may say that it was too much or that the 40 year old Captain wasn’t that great, wasn’t all that deserving. Taking a step back though, it’s worth a second look.
The young man from Kalamazoo Central Highschool who Groch described as having a “narrow waist” and “good range” went on to do much more than simply “play ball.” Just to scratch the surface, Jeter played in nine All-Star games, was the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, claimed five AL Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers, was the 2000 All-Star game and World Series MVP, and has 3,465 career hits (the 6th most in MLB history).
“The last time I went to Yankee Stadium, I saw a guy there with two boys who had Jeter shirts on. I asked them, ‘Are you going to see the Yankees play?’ They said, ‘No, we’re going to see Derek Jeter.’” – Dick Groch
Nicknamed “Captain Clutch” and “Mr. November” due to his near impeccable performance in the postseason, he’s known for making the impossible plays. Following in the footsteps of many of New York’s legends before him, “The Captain” is no exception to the franchise’s history.
When asked what was going through his mind when he stepped into the batter’s box for the last time at Yankee Stadium, Jeter’s response was simply, “don’t cry.” During that at-bat, Jeter hit a walk off single to right field to defeat the AL East leading Orioles, 5-4. Multiple commentators and sports hosts confessed, “you knew this would happen” when he came up to bat at the bottom of the 9th – it’s just in his nature.
A few games later, Fenway Park’s Red Sox fans, the Yankee’s bitter rivals, shouted the classic “DER-EK JET-ER” chant in their own stadium. Gatorade’s “Made in New York” and Jordan’s “RE2PECT” commercials only further confirmed that Derek Jeter is more than just a man ending his baseball career. He didn’t choose to be honored during his final season of baseball – his teammates, his opponents, his fans, and baseball as a whole made the decision for him.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted to do and not too many people get an opportunity to do it. It was above and beyond anything that I’ve ever dreamt of,” said the Captain himself, “I’ve lived a dream.”
by RYAN ALEVY / contributing writer