Religious fan that I am of the great shortstop of the New York Yankees, I am glued to my television set today, watching the festivities in celebration of the achievements of the Captain of the team, who retires at the end of the 2014 season: Derek Jeter.
To say it's been emotional is an understatement. But in true Jeter fashion, at the end of his speech thanking the fans and his professional colleagues and friends, he reminded the roaring crowd of the Sports Cathedral that is Yankee Stadium that 'we have a game to play.' However that game turns out, however much his game has suffered since that devastating injury in the 2012 postseason, he remains the Yankee of his generation. I have been a Yankees fan my whole life; that wasn't easy in the late 1960s and through the mid-1970s, when they were perpetual losers, or in the 1980s, when they lost after winning back-to-back World Series championships in 1977-1978, with guys like Guidry, Nettles, Randolph, and Bucky "Fu__king" Dent" as he is known in Boston, who hit a home run in the 163rd game of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox one-game playoff that propelled the Yanks to the American League Championship Series, an AL pennant win, and another World Series win, their second consecutive Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But in the 1980s, the New York Mets owned this town; so most of my growing up as a Yankees fan was not like rooting for "General Motors" as the Yankees detractors had always said. But in 1996, that all changed; Joe Torre took the helm; the New York sports pages called him "Clueless Joe," and Derek became the Yankees regular shortstop, the last regular season player to wear the last single digit available (#2), after all those retired numbers (#4, Lou Gehrig; #3 Babe Ruth, #7 Mickey Mantle, you get the picture). He became Rookie of the Year in 1996; he owns five World Series rings, and was an MVP of the All-Star Game and the Word Series in the same year (2000).
They didn't retire his number today, though that day is surely coming. As will the Hall of Fame; it isn't just that he is the player with the sixth most hits in Major League History (#3,449 and counting), or franchise records in most hits, most doubles, most at bats, most stolen bases, and so on and so on. It is that he is a consummate professional with all the charm of a New York celebrity, and all the quiet certitude in his talents befitting of a Howard Roark.
Three cheers for Derek on his special day; for me #2 will always be #1. But the Yanks are fighting for a postseason spot (a long shot, if you ask me). We'll have more to say about him as the season comes to its close. For now, I'm just taking every last minute in, and thankful to have witnessed the career of such a legendary sports figure in my lifetime.