Thursday night, September 26, 2014, television was filled with sports. There was Thursday Night Football, NCAA Football, and baseball. It was baseball that captivated audiences. One of the greatest players and leaders of all time played his last game at Yankee Stadium. This player didn’t chest pound when he made a great play or slammed a key hit into the outfield; he led by example. Derek Jeter was a baseball player with class.
Derek Jeter will end his career in Fenway Park on Sunday. He told reporters he would not play short stop in Boston, and the reason is understandable. He doesn’t want to disrespect the Red Sox fans; he wants his last memory from the field to be the view from his short stop position in Yankee Stadium.
Another sports reporter, who covered and wrote about Jeter throughout his career, was asked the question, ‘what is your favorite memory?’ He said it was from the 4th game of the 2001 World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees. The game went into extra innings. During the tenth inning, the clock passed midnight. The scoreboard lit up with ‘welcome to November.’
In the bottom of the 10th, and the score tied 3-3, Derek Jeter came to bat with the bases empty. The count was 3-2 when Jeter smashed a pitch over the right field wall. The walk-off homerun not only gave the Yankees a 4-3 victory, but earned him the nickname ‘Mr. November.’
Another reporter told a story which is more revealing about the man.
After his fifth World Series win in 2009, the reporter followed Jeter into the clubhouse to get an interview. Jeter walked past his teammates who were popping the corks from bottles of champagne and celebrating the team’s 27th World Series victory overall. In the next room Jeter found his parents; hugged them, and thanked them for his wonderful life. Then he joined the other Yankees to toast victory.
When Jeter was interviewed after Thursday night’s game, he relayed how difficult the last two weeks had been, and particularly this evening. “In the first inning I was thinking, ‘Please don’t hit it to me.’ In the last inning I almost lost it. I don’t know how many times I didn’t want the ball hit to me. A couple of times I almost broke down. I almost told [manager] Joe [Girardi] to get me out of here before I cost us the game.’’
Not only did he not cost the Yankees the game, his final at bat was a fitting end in his home park for a baseball and sports legend. Tied 5-5 in the bottom of the 9th, and pinch-runner Antoan Richardson on second base, Jeter singled sharply to right field for the ‘walk-off’ win.
In a sports world where athletes continually praise themselves for their on-field or on-the-court actions, Jeter is a throwback. He didn’t need to tell fans how good he was, he showed them. He can be compared to the greatest players in all sports as a man who always ran as hard as he could to first base, even when it was a simple ground-out; he never gave up on a play in the field, making every attempt possible to get the out; and he always credited his teammates and thanked his fans.
It’s more than fair, and probably not grand enough, but Jeter was a baseball player with class; you can’t define it, but if you watched him play, you saw it.