I suppose every athlete, fan and writer at some point in time has that moment where they really look back and think about why they care about sports so much. What has manifested this love, to the point of almost obsession for some of us, of a game?
When I was growing up, baseball was my game. I was proud to say that I was a Yankees fan. I remember watching them win the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 and collecting everything I could that was Yankees related.
But perhaps the biggest reason why I’m so proud to be among the pinstripe faithful is because of Derek Jeter. This article is in homage to a player who I feel is the essence of what it means to be a true “team player”.
Jeter joined the Yankees in 1996. I was eight years old at the time and in my eye, there was no one better at baseball than Jeter. Of course, looking back 13 years later I know that’s a bit of an overstatement, but to an eight-year-old Jeter was, and still is, a huge role model to me.
I joined a Little League and was soon playing baseball. Though my team name wasn’t the Yankees—that wouldn’t happen until I was 13 or 14—I had to be number two. I played shortstop. I modeled my batting stance after Jeter as well.
In my later years of playing baseball, my teammates would even chant “Derek Jeter” after I made a huge play at short.
Jeter is undeniably the face of the Yankees organization. The absolute definition of what it means to be a Yankee. He’s the team’s eleventh captain, which he got in 2003. The Yankees had been without a captain since 1995, the year then captain Don Mattingly retired.
He’s the all-time hits leader for shortstops, second overall in Yankees’ history in stolen bases with 298, fourth in runs with 1,562, first in singles with 1,996 and first in at-bats with 8,565.
And he is eight hits away from being first overall in Yankees history for hits, set to pass another Yankees great, Lou Gehrig.
You wouldn’t know that by what he puts out in the media, however. He has always been very cautious about what he says and does, probably because he knows he has that role model status. He’s never been even thought of for being a PED (performance enhancing drugs) user nor has he ever mixed his personal and professional life.
All Jeter focuses on is winning. He wants to win and wants to be the best there is. The Yankees have the best record in baseball right now and Jeter is a big part of that, himself batting .330 with 17 HRs with 61 RBIs. Possibly an MVP type season.
Jeter’s resurgence and class is just a huge testament to the type of player he always has been. Some may say he’s overrated, some might say he’s one of the most underrated players of all time. What no one can question is the heart this guy has for playing the game of baseball and doing what it takes to win.
I still remember those days when I was that eight-year-old kid, and every year after, when I’d play baseball and put on that number 2 with such pride. As a twenty-one-year old college student, I still wear Jeter’s number 2 on my Jeter jersey with the same pride as I did on the diamond. One day, that number 2 will be among the rest of the Yankees retired numbers in Monument Park.
So for Jeter’s drive, natural born talent, class, character and his love of the game, I salute him.