Though I’m not a true baseball fan, the Yankees-Orioles game was on my calendar last Thursday. The game had no bearing on the playoff picture—New York was already out, Baltimore was already in. But Thursday night wasn’t so much about baseball.
Thursday night was about #2…The Captain…Mr. November. On this long-anticipated evening, after 20 years in pinstripes, Derek Jeter would play his last game at Yankee Stadium.
“Rainout” was on Al Roker’s radar, but there would be no raining on this parade. The capacity crowd was on its feet every time #2 was announced, and early on, he gave them something to cheer about—a first inning hit…an RBI in the middle innings.
The Yankees were leading 5-2 as they took the field for the top of the ninth. New York manager, Joe Girardi, was probably trying to decide when to take Jeter out for one last ovation. Apparently, Baltimore didn’t get the memo about the fat lady singing, and they proceeded to hit a home run, then a base hit, then another home run. Result?… TIE GAME.
For once, Yankees fans didn’t mind. Why?…because this meant they’d get to see Jeter one more time. The Captain was slated to bat third.
I can play it all back in my head: the lead-off man gets a single. The next batter lays down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner into scoring position.
All eyes–from the owners’ and celebrities’, to the Little Leaguers’ and their dads’, to the hot dog venders’–are trained on #2 as he walks to the plate. He stands in the box… one pitch… one swing…. one crack of the bat. The ball drops into shallow right field for a base hit. It’s fielded as the runner rounds third… the throw…the play at home…….
”SAFE!” Yankees win! Yankees win!
…on Jeter’s final swing…and his first walk-off hit in seven years.
Of course, the haters will hate and the naysayers will nay.
After one player’s comment that Jeter was the greatest, Keith Olbermann, of ESPN, takes it upon himself to detail all the statistical reasons #2 is NOT #1. (You will understand if I don’t share the link.) I’m sure it was just oversight that K.O. failed to highlight post-season stats Jeter does lead. I’m afraid that all he proves in his rant is that it’s possible to make A point while entirely missing THE point.
Thursday night wasn’t about stats–it was one last tip of the cap to Jeter’s integrity and dedication and leadership, and humility. Sure, it was about hundreds of great plays and proud moments over time–but, more, it was about a great human being who also happened to be a great ballplayer.
“Who is the greatest” can never be determined by stats alone.
But five World Series rings, millions of forever fans, and one class act, should keep Derek Jeter in the conversation for years to come.