Thanking the Captain

February 19th, 2014

In the entire history of the sport of baseball, there have been hundreds of thousands of talented, unique players. Therefore, standing out among the rest of the competition isn’t exactly an easy thing to do, yet that’s exactly what Derek Jeter has done for nearly two decades now – and for all the right reasons.


Derek Sanderson Jeter, who turns 40 years old in June, made his Major League Baseball debut on May 29, 1995. At the time, he was just a scrawny 20-year-old kid who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan with the dream of one day playing shortstop for the New York Yankees.


Fast-forward to present day, and Jeter has cemented himself among the all-time greats in baseball history. He’s won five World Series titles, been named to 13 different All-Star teams and has won countless other awards.


But what defines Jeter are not the accolades he’s collected or the statistics that he’s racked up. Rather, what defines Jeter is the way that he’s conducted himself as a professional on and off the field over the course of his two-decade career.


When you take the time to reflect on Jeter’s career, there are dozens of timeless moments that make Jeter the legend that he is.


We can go all the way back to June 27, 1992 – the day after Jeter’s 18th birthday – when he was drafted sixth overall by the Yankees. Less than three years later on May 30, 1995, Jeter collected his first career hit against the Seattle Mariners.


What about the 2001 World Series, where Jeter tied the series at two with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning, earning himself the nickname “Mr. November” after the games were moved back due to 9/11.


Remember June 3, 2003, when Jeter was named Yankees captain, the 11th in team history? What about Jeter’s infamous “Dive” in July 2004 against the Red Sox, where he catapulted himself into the stands, bruising and cutting his face in the process, just to catch a foul ball in the top of the 12th inning?


Don’t forget Sept. 11, 2009, when Jeter became the Yankee’s all-time leader in career hits, breaking Lou Gehrig’s 70-year-old record. Less than two years later on July 9, 2011, Jeter collected career hit No. 3,000 in grand fashion by hitting a home run off of David Price.


I’d keep going, but believe me, I’d need more than just this column space to relive all of the other Jeter moments.


What also stands out about “The Captain” is the fact that he played in the midst of baseball’s “steroid era,” where an estimated 60-70 percent of players were using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Despite the unequal playing field, Jeter still dominated the competition while being in the “clean” minority. Even in baseball’s most troubling era, Jeter gave fans a reason to believe.


Jeter has continuously been the perfect example of what a “role model” ought to be, not just in sports, but life in general.


In short, Derek Jeter is – and has been – everything that is right with the sport of baseball.


On Feb. 12, 2014, Jeter announced via Facebook that the 2014 season would indeed be his final season in pinstripes. Jeter was once quoted saying, “God, I hope I wear this jersey forever.” Unfortunately, we know that all good things must eventually come to an end.


As soon as the news broke, I went online and purchased a pair of tickets – one for me, one for my Dad – to Jeter’s final home game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25, 2014. The tickets weren’t cheap, that I can promise, but the cost of a ticket pales in comparison to the lifetime of memories that will come from that day. It’s fitting that I’ll be spending the occasion with my Dad, who introduced me to baseball at age five and loves the game as much as I do, for our first ever trip to either Yankee Stadium.


When it’s all said and done, and Jeter has donned his classic No. 2 Yankees jersey for the very last time, he will forever be remembered as one of the most humble, most respected and most accomplished players of not just his generation, but all-time.


While Jeter will certainly be missed by not just Yankees fans – but baseball fans everywhere – after his retirement, we can take solace in the fact that he carried the sport of baseball through one of its most troubling eras and left behind a legacy that can’t be touched.


For that, we owe “The Captain” more than we can ever truly repay him. Thank you, Derek Jeter.