On Sunday afternoon, May 14, 2017, the New York Yankees retired shortstop Derek Jeter‘s famed number 2 jersey in between games of a sort-of day/night doubleheader. Over his 20 year career, he had legions of admirers among both Yankees fans and everywhere across Major League Baseball. There are plenty of articles online which illustrate his career and accomplishments, both as a team and personally, so I’m going to write about what he meant to me as a Yankees fan.
When Derek first was called up to the Yankees from the Columbus Clippers, then the Yankees’ Triple-A farm team in 1995, I had become more of a casual baseball observer. I was then 24 years old, freshly married for the first time, and just started working in machine trades which entailed long hours with lots of overtime. I didn’t have much time to watch baseball, and the team had some lean years in the early 90’s. The 1994 team was excellent, but the 1994-95 MLB Player’s Strike left a bad taste in my mouth.
Late in the ’95 season, I realized the Yankees were playing well and made the playoffs. They were matched-up against the Seattle Mariners, who were managed by one of my favorite players from my childhood, Lou Piniella. Derek didn’t make the 1995 Yankees‘ postseason roster, but I watched some of the playoff games when I could. I got my first glimpses of Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, and despite losing to Ken Griffey Jr. and the Mariners, I found myself getting re-hooked on baseball.
In ’96, I was still working odd hours which took away my abilities to watch the games in the evening. I followed the Yanks through SportsCenter highlights and the daily newspaper (internet was barely a thing in ’96). They made it to the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, the reigning champions. By the postseason, I was finally able to work day-shift and was home in the evening to watch the games.
The magical run the Yankees were on looked to be in jeopardy, as the Braves won the first two games at Yankee Stadium. But Joe Torre never flinched. Atlanta was a place of comfort, as he managed the Braves for a while in the 1980’s, but he felt confident about winning down there.
Torre’s confidence in his team paid off, and a huge turning point in the series came when Yanks catcher Jim Leyritz hit a three-run homer off overpowering Atlanta closer Mark Wohlers.
Derek Jeter and the Yankees went on to win the ’96 series and three more over the next 4 seasons. I was officially hooked back on the Yankees and Derek was such a huge part of that. The young core of players made watching them fun and reinvigorated my love for baseball.
Derek is only 3 years younger than me and I feel like we “grew up with each other” over the years as we aged. As the 1990’s progressed through the 2000’s, the Yankees won and Derek delivered. After 9 years of not winning the World Series, Jeter and the Yankees hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy with their Series championship against the Phillies in 2009.
In October 2012, in a playoff game against the Detroit Tigers, Jeter broke his ankle on a diving play to his after off the bat of Jhonny Peralta. That play effectively took the wind out of the Yankees’ sails and Detroit went on to face the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 World Series.
As Jeter recovered from his ankle injury, his 2013 season never really got up and going for any amount of time. He admittedly came back too soon and his trials and tribulations in 2013 are chronicled here from our friends at River Avenue Blues.
The following Spring Training, Derek Jeter announced 2014 would be his final season in a Facebook post. Throughout 2014, he received gifts from other MLB cities on the road.
But those appetizers from the road couldn’t compare to the main course at home. The Yankees honored Jeter on Sunday, September 7th, a game the Yankees would lose to the Kansas City Royals by the score of 2-0. It was a different story on the night of September 25th, when the Yankees played their last home game of the season. “El Capitan”, as long time play-by-play man John Sterling calls Jeter, cemented his legacy as a clutch hitter (not that he needed to) when he drove in the game winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Yankees a win in his last game at Yankee Stadium.
I will never forget that game, I remember it just like it was yesterday, even though it was more than 2 and a half years ago. I’ll never forget the waves of emotion from other Yankees fans on my Twitter timeline who were experiencing the same emotions as I.
In the years since Jeter’s retirement, the Yankees roster has grown much younger and a new core of young talent has taken hold, bringing the same excitement to younger fans the same way Derek Jeter did for me 20 years ago. But on Derek’s big day, it was nice to take one last look at the Yankees past as old becomes new again.
See you next time!