I am going to write a lot of words to explain why I can’t put into words how much Derek Jeter has meant to this lifelong Yankee fan.
I have had the fortune to be a Yankee fan basically from birth, but not being old enough to start really being aware of them until the late 1960s, at the nadir of their long history.
My dad started following the Yankees in the 1940s, seeing the tail end of Joe DiMaggio’s career, and all of the legendary careers of Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. I’m not sure how often he saw them play in person during the 1950s, probably a half-dozen times (when they played in Chicago, and once at Yankee Stadium). Each time he saw them, Mantle homered. Seriously. He listened to the entirety of Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game on the radio. He was driving a semi between Indiana and New Jersey in 1961, listening on the radio to the home run battle between Mantle and Roger Maris.
Seeking My Own Legend
As we were growing up, he regaled my brothers and me with his memories of those years. We voraciously read the baseball magazines from the 1950s that he had saved. We listened and read about all those great moments while watching the Yankees struggle to stay out of last place.
I remember seeing Mantle once on TV when the Yankees played in Detroit, probably in 1967 or ‘68. I remember the disappointment when he announced his retirement before the 1969 season. Our chance watch the legend was over. But my brothers and I placed our hopes in Bobby Murcer as the next legend. H enjoyed some great years on mediocre teams before he was traded to the Giants. Our next hope was in Thurman Munson, but the Yankee captain’s life was cut short by a tragic plane crash.
We did enjoy some great years in the late ‘70s with two World Series titles, but those were the Bronx Zoo years with great players but no real legend. Our next hope came in the 1980s with Don Mattingly (who was called up to the Majors when Murcer retired) and he was phenomenal for a five-year stretch on a team that became perennial also-rans. And then his career was cut short by chronic back injuries.
Meanwhile, we continued to live somewhat vicariously through Dad’s stories.
Sharing Jeter with My Kids
Then came Derek Jeter.
With that kind of set up, you can see why Jeter’s legendary Hall-of-Fame-worthy career meant so much to me. Finally I got to see a legend like the ones I had only been reading about for all those years. But it was even more special because I got to share it with my kids. My youngest son was 4 when Jeter broke into the Majors, so until 2015 he had never seen a season that he remembered that didn’t have No. 2 at shortstop.
There were many October nights when I stayed up late into the night, watching the Yankees in the post-season, often with both my sons and my daughter at my side. At first it may have been partly for the excuse to stay up past their normal bedtime, but in time they were diehard Yankee fans as well.
In 2009 my daughter was in college. One night one of her roommates entered her room and asked her in disbelief what she was watching. When she replied that it was the World Series, her roommate asked, “Who’s making you?” Of course, no one was, she was simply enjoying seeing Jeter lead the Yankees to another championship. (Disclaimer: Jeter was always her second favorite Yankee; she developed a strong affection for Luis Sojo, who played in four of the Yankees World Series from 1996-2001.)
A Great Role Model
I cannot think of any player I would rather have had as the role model for my kids. As a person, he was always respectable and respected the game. As a player, he played the game hard and never took anything for granted. He rose to the occasion whenever big challenges presented themselves. And he was a quiet leader.
One of the best compliments I ever heard about Jeter came from a Red Sox fan. “You what I hate about Jeter?” he said. “That there’s nothing about him to hate!”
Jeter's Hit Defeats Tampa Bay 2014
Many Opportunities to Watch Jeter
I had the opportunity to see Jeter play in person on a number of occasions, including twice in his final season, and he never disappointed. In Cleveland once I saw him throw out a runner on a grounder almost behind third base and another on a grounder almost over second base, all in the same inning. That was one of the years he supposedly no longer had any range. In his final season, I saw him play twice at Tampa Bay. He won one of games with an RBI single to right.
Thanks to technology and the wonderful MLB app, I was able to see many of his games over his final four or five seasons. That allowed me to see such memorable moments as his 3,000th hit and his game-winning hit in his final game at Yankee Stadium.
Jeter Brings it Full Circle for Three Generations
Perhaps the greatest thing about Jeter’s career is that it finally bridged the experience between me and my father. After Mantle’s career ended, my dad lost some of his zeal for baseball. It just didn’t seem as good as he remembered it.
But he enjoyed Jeter’s career. He watched many of the games and we he had the opportunity to talk about him and the Yankees. Dad even bought a book about Jeter. And Jeter was someone my kids could talk about with their grandfather. It was nice to finally have someone in my memory that was worthy of the Yankees the way Dad remembered them.
So, for me, Jeter did far more than just produce an amazing baseball career filled with many memories. He connected three generations of my family in a special way that I find impossible to put into words.
CJ Kelly from the PNW on May 15, 2017:
Since I don't live in NY anymore, I get into a lot of debates with non-Yankee fans about Jeter. The common argument is that he is only thought of as great because he was a Yankee. If he played in KC or Cleveland, the naysayers claim, he would be thought of as just another SS. Then they hit me with his stats.
But I argue that it's because he played at Yankee Stadium, under pressure and in the postseason every year, that made him worthy of all the praise. Playing MLB is tough but it's tougher in NY, Philly and Boston. He rose to the occasion every time.
Great piece. Sharing.