It was October 14, 2001. The day after my wedding. I was supposed to be on my honeymoon, on a beach in Cancun. However, because I had let my driver’s license expire, we weren’t allowed on the plane (a difficult time for our country, remember… we were still getting used to the ‘new way’ of doing things…). So instead, I was sitting in a hotel room on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls. My wife of one day was asleep, mentally exhausted and maybe a little depressed that she married such an idiot. I was trying to catch up on all the sports I had missed the day before. The Tribe was in the playoffs, Ohio State had played that day and apparently I had missed an amazing play in the Yankees v. A’s game, which was a must-win for the Yankees (down 2-0).
I remember watching the highlight of that play before game four (my wife was still asleep – or pretending to be) and thinking to myself, ‘Derek Jeter is the greatest baseball player of my generation. I’m watching greatness.’
Let me take you back to his first year, in 1996, when it wasn’t cool to hate the Yankees yet. They weren’t yet the dynasty they eventually became; in fact, they were the underdog in the World Series that year, against the Braves. Despite making his debut in 1995, Derek Jeter was in his first official year (first rookie to start at shortstop for the Yankees since 1962, in fact).
I was in my sophomore year of college, watching the World Series, watching the Yankees go down 2-0 to the Braves…then watching them rip off four wins in a row. I watched Jeter and thought, ‘We are going to see a lot of this guy for a long time.’
Today, on the day of his last home game, it annoys me that so many people are talking about his final year, the accolades, the going away gifts, debating where he ranks all-time (near the top?), where he ranks among the best shortstops (at the top?), where he ranks among the best Yankees (Tim Kurkjian says 6th, behind Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle and Berra).
What we should be talking about, during a time when, let’s face it – sports suck, quite frankly – is the fact one of the greatest players in his sport is retiring. As an Indians fan you would think I’d be happy to see this guy go. Afterall, we had to watch him kill us year after year. All those nights I watched him, Paul O’ Neill (personally my favorite Yankee), Tino Martinez, Jorge Pasada, Bernie Williams, Scott Brosius and anyone in pinstripes find ways to win.
Instead, I’m a little sad about it. Not just because it means I’m getting older (Jeter is only two years older than me) but because I don’t know when we will see a professional human being, not to mention a professional baseball player, like him again.
So if you want to debate where he ranks, read another blog. I’ll use my space, and your time, to simply say thank you to Derek Jeter, for all that he gave to the game and all the memories he gave to baseball fans everywhere.